Government investment in e-health systems in Australia could prevent an estimated 5000 deaths per year, a report revealed yesterday.
The Optimising E-Health Value report released by management consultancy Booz & Company stated that investment in e-health could also generate $7.6 billion in annual healthcare savings by 2020.
According to the report, around 10.4 per cent of patients are prescribed the wrong medication. However, through an e-health system, allowing information to be shared between general practitioners (GPs) and hospitals, the number of incorrect prescriptions could be reduced, saving $2.6 billion. Such a system could also potentially prevent some of the 18,000 deaths reported per year due to medication errors.
Report co-author Klaus Boehncke said the report clearly showed the need to invest in e-health as part of any state or federal government healthcare reform agenda.
"E-health is the crucial missing piece of the health reform jigsaw presently, and it must not be allowed to slip from view," he said.
Boehncke stated that the report showed that e-health investment should shift focus from hospitals to GP clinics.
"GPs are increasingly at the sharp end of providing integrated and chronic care, and their role becomes more important under the government's reforms, with their initial focus on diabetes. There is a real opportunity to reap powerful gains by putting them at the centre of the e-health push," he said.
The report also revealed that an e-health system connecting GPs, hospitals and other healthcare providers would reduce the amount of lab test and x-ray duplications, if a patient's records were shared.
"Australia's GPs — 95 per cent of whom use computers — are among the most highly computerised in the world. However, they are not well connected with each other, or with other points of care such as hospitals, so the valuable patient information they hold is not shared with other care providers or indeed among their own community," Boehncke said.
"Up to $5 billion of the total savings from e-health investment in our model would come from improving connectivity and dissemination of information to and from GPs," he added.
The Federal Government is expected to announce an extra $2 billion in health funding in Tuesday's budget, including funding for the long-awaited system of electronic health records. This funding would reflect the prioritisation of e-health records by the Coalition of Australian Governments last month.
Legislation to enable the introduction of individual health identifiers is yet to be passed in parliament. The government had hoped to have introduction of the identifiers on its way by 1 July. However, delays in the passing of the legislation could result in a later implementation date.