Australian e-health sign-up target 'in sight'

Despite needing to double the number of users signed up for e-health records, the Australian Department of Health and Ageing is confident that it'll get close to 500,000 users signed up by the end of this month.
Written by Josh Taylor, Senior Journalist on

The Department of Health and Ageing is expecting to get close to 500,000 users signed up for Personally Controlled E-Health Records (PCEHR) by the end of June, despite only having approximately half that number signed up so far.

The Australian government, in conjunction with the states, has invested over AU$1 billion in the e-health program aimed at improving patient care through making it easier for healthcare providers to access and share information about a patient throughout the medical system. The project has been slow for uptake, with the government rolling out a number of the features of the system over time as GPs and other healthcare providers implement key system upgrades in order to accommodate the new e-health record system.

In an Budget Estimates hearing late last week, Department of Health and Ageing Secretary Jane Halton confirmed that 250,000 have signed up for e-health records in the 11 months since it came online. While the figure shows a rapid acceleration in the number of people signing up for the records, going up from 73,648 in March, it is still well short of the 500,000 the department had suggested would be signed up by the end of June.

The department's deputy secretary, Rosemary Huxtable, told the parliamentary committee that despite the ground that needs to be made on the number of registrations, the 500,000 goal is "still in sight".

"While 500,000 may be a stretch in that regard, I think we are certainly heading in the right direction," she said.

Huxtable said that more features are coming online, such as the national prescribe and dispense repository for medicine prescriptions, as well as the e-health record features for parents to track the health of their children and the enabling of software for the aged-care sector. As these are being enabled, more people are signing up for records, she said.

"There is a range of activity that means that the functionality is growing, and so more people are developing an interest. It becomes iterative process, effectively."

Part of the slow uptake back in July 2012 was also due to the legislation for the records not passing until July 1, and the e-health sites not being as advanced as the government had expected on launch date.

While registration is improving, the number of documents being used in the system is still relatively low. As of last week, there were 1,928 shared health summaries, and there have been 464 discharge summaries uploaded to the system. A total of 3,636 health organisations registered to use the PCEHR system as of last week.

All Tasmanian hospitals are due to be live on the PCEHR system by the end of June.

Funding uncertainty

In the 2012-13 Budget, the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) received an additional AU$166 million to cover the next phase of the project over two years. That funding is due to run out on June 30, 2014, and Huxtable said that the department is now working on a business case for future e-health funding with the states and territories to be put to the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council.

The National Partnership Agreement on E-Health expired at the end of June last year, and, since then, NEHTA has continued to get funding from the Commonwealth and the states through an in-principle memorandum of understanding signed by all parties except Victoria. Huxtable said that the parties are operating as though the agreement has been signed, but are just going through the final processes before a new agreement can be signed.


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