IT industry figures and analysts have said that the $466 million allocated to e-health spending in the Budget is likely only the beginning, with concerns arising over how seriously only two years worth of funding can be taken.
Ian Birks, CEO of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) noted that although the $466 million funding for e-health was less than expected (two reports had put the funding required at over $1 billion), it was a big win for the ICT industry.
"It is a key building block in achieving better health outcomes," he said. "[The funding] does seem a little light but I'm sure it has been rationalised. It is a very small part of an overall modernisation process and it will lead to other initiatives that will need to be funded."
Ovum analyst Kevin Noonan agreed that further funding was needed but said it was important to begin somewhere on implementing the electronic health record system.
"On one hand, it isn't enough and more money is needed to make an impression on e-health," he said. "On the other hand, one of the problems is that we need to get the ball rolling on this."
Fellow Ovum analyst Steve Hodgkinson, meanwhile, was concerned that the funding was not the right amount.
"$466.7 million seems either too little or too much, depending on the scope of the initiative — too little to actually create a national e-health records system that is efficiently integrated into the hundreds of systems already operating within the sector," he said.
"And too much to be prudently spent in such a short time frame [two years] — given the complexity of the situation, the legendary slow pace of government procurement and the government's track record of implementing complex operational projects 'in a hurry'."
He asked how the data was going to get into the system, saying that if providers and patients had to enter it themselves, it could become another task for an already overwrought health system, with the two-year time frame making people wonder what will come next. Vendors will also be chary of investing in something with such a short time frame, he believed, although CSC, which has a specialised e-health arm, has already released a statement approving of the funding.
"We can confirm that with an initial investment of $466.7 million as announced, Australia can make substantial progress," CSC Australia's director for Health Services Lisa Pettigrew said.
Jean-Marc Annonier, research manager at IDC, had different reasons for believing the program could face problems, saying the opt-in nature of the electronic health record would mean that unless the Federal Government sold the benefits to consumers, they would stick with Medicare because they see it as a "record system that works".
Overall, AIIA's Birks called the Budget "generally quite positive" for the ICT industry, saying that there would be many opportunities for IT within the weighty renewable energies and skills funding. Meanwhile, IDC's Annonier said that the budget was "underwhelming" for IT because the government was focused on consumers rather than business ahead of the Federal election later this year.
Ovum's Noonan thought the budget had "hit a number of nails on the head" for the ICT industry but said he "wouldn't call it innovative".