Blown-out Australian Defence Force e-health records rolled out

The Australian Defence Force has rolled out a new e-health program for initially 25,000 members at over double the initial budget of AU$55 million.

The rollout of an AU$133 million national e-health system for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is the first full national e-health record system, according to Assistant Minister for Defence Stuart Robert.

"This government places great demands on our soldiers, sailors, air men and women. Our expectations are high of our personnel, because we truly believe service is unique," he said.

"In return, we will ensure our personnel have the best possible healthcare and support."

The system, which began development in 2011 with CSC Australia, is based on a system that has been provided by Edgton Medical Information Systems in the UK since 2007. Robert said that for this reason, it is a mature technology that has been proven. However, despite the maturity of the technology, the budget for the project blew out from AU$55 million in 2011 to AU$133 million.

Robert blamed the former Labor government for the cost.

"Everything we inherited from the previous government was a major blowout. This is just one of a long litany of blowouts that we had to look at," he said.

However, Rear Admiral Robyn Walker said it was an issue with change management, rather than the technology.

"The main issue was that when the project was first developed, there was not the detailed understanding of the training requirements, licence requirements, and more particularly the integration into business practices," she said.

"With any major IT program, it is about the change managements that's required across all our health centres to make sure we can still continue to provide the healthcare we need. It wasn't around the software, it was more about how we implemented the change, and implemented the system as a full business program."

The e-health record system is designed to be all encompassing, from the time of an ADF member's enlistment through to their retirement. Defence will get an entire overview of a member's medical history, and also a high statistical overview to work out the medical availability and readiness of its personnel for combat operations.

Robert said the system is fully compatible with the National E-Health Transition Authority standards, meaning that the system will allow an ADF member's e-health record information to be accessed both in Defence and by public hospitals and GPs with compatible e-health systems.

The system was first piloted in North Queensland, but has since been extended to the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It will be rolled out in South Australia next week, followed by New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, and will be in all Defence health centres across Australia by the end of the year. The full system is expected to include all 57,000 ADF members.

Vice chief of the Defence Force Ray Griggs said the e-health system's greatest benefits would be realised once the system is deployed at sea and in the field.

"In the near future, in the next 12 to 18 months, we will roll out the system at sea, which will be a challenging technological activity, but one we're confident we'll be able to achieve," he said, adding that access to a full medical history for sailors who often work on board without a doctor would improve healthcare at sea dramatically.

"The whole notion of telemedicine and the support that can be provided onshore when the complete medical record is available to the person who is providing that support is a quantum change to what we have now," he said.

"This is a pretty exciting achievement for us."