The Federal Department of Health and Ageing has rejected "laughable" questions on whether the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) would ever compete against e-health companies as a commercial entity.
The authority was established back in mid-2005 by state health ministers as a non-profit company. With funding running into the hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, its mission is to develop electronic health standards to better tie together the IT systems of Australia's health institutions to better outcomes for patients.
Yet according to Liberal Senator Sue Boyce in Senate Estimates last week, firms in the health IT industry were feeling uncertain about whether NEHTA might ultimately use the information it has been gathering for a national e-health system to compete against them. She asked whether there were any intention for NEHTA to be a commercial entity.
"This concern has been put to me by people from private companies or who are stakeholders who are concerned that they are being asked to share secret commercial information with an organisation that they are not entirely confident may not at some stage be in competition with them," said Boyce, "when we drop the 'T' out, presumably".
DOHA secretary Jane Halton said the commonwealth, state and territorial governments had not had a discussion about NEHTA's future governance arrangements.
"I have to say, my personal opinion is it is unlikely it would function in a commercial way," she said. " I cannot say one way or the other, but certainly given its function is quite specified and its owners are commonwealth and state ministers, I cannot see why that would be the case."
Halton further added that the notion that governments could supplant commercial organisations or play in the commercial e-health sector was "frankly ... laughable".
"If I, in my case as a director, with my state and territory colleagues were interested in building some vast monolith, we would have indicated that. That is not what we are interested in," she said. " It is not our business, core or otherwise, to be competing with the commercial sector."
The questions about NEHTA's status came as part of a prolonged questioning session on the part of the Opposition into the Federal Government's introduction into parliament of legislation to introduce a National Health Identifier to be implemented by the middle of 2010.