Australia's 'struggling' e-health records under review

The Australian government has announced an inquiry into the rollout of the AU$1 billion e-health record system implemented under the former government.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Health Minister Peter Dutton has announced a short review into Australia's "struggling" AU$1 billion Personally Controlled E-Health Record project over its failure to attract doctors to participate.

Since 2011, the former Labor 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.

Unlike the current problems affecting the US government's healthcare website, Australia's e-health system faced the opposite problem: Very little interest from the public and doctors in signing up.

While sign-up for patients had been roughly in line with expectations from the government, reaching over 900,000 to date, the number of documents being created and used in the system is still relatively low, with only a few hundred healthcare professionals putting up the "shared health summary" that lists a patient's details, and around 5,000 documents uploaded in total.

"This defeats the purpose of having a national, electronic system that is meant to help save lives," Dutton said yesterday.

"The government fully supports the concept of electronic health records, but it must be fit for purpose and cost effective."

The Coalition in opposition was always critical of the amount of spending on the project, but went to the election without any specific policy regarding the future of e-health records. As the new health minister, Dutton on Sunday announced a short review to report back to the government by mid December on the state of the project.

The review will be chaired by UnitingCare Health group executive director Richard Royale, who Dutton said is currently overseeing the implementation of Australia's "first fully integrated digital hospital" in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

Assisting Royale will be the Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton, and Australia Post's CIO Andrew Walduck.

"The review team's expertise encompasses information technology, patient and medical services, and business administration, which I believe is the right mix to put the electronic records program back on track," Dutton said.

Hambleton told the ABC this morning that there had not been enough focus on making e-health records easy to use.

"The interface between the GP software and the PCEHR is difficult. The time spent on uploading what is a shared health summary needs to be done line by line with the patient, and that is time consuming. The efficiency is not there," Hambleton said.

The review will look at what users were expecting from the system versus what has been delivered, the level of consultation during the development of the system, the level of use of the records, barriers to uptake, usability issues, what needs to be done to fix the system, and the potential for the private sector to "provide solutions" for the e-health system.

The review is open to submissions from the public as well as stakeholder groups, Dutton said.

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