Legislation required to introduce a national e-health identifier for all Australians was introduced into parliament today.
The Healthcare Identifier Bill will allow a unique 16-digit number to be assigned to individuals and health care providers, which will enable the transfer of patient information between those involved in an individual's care.
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The numbers will be assigned by the middle of this year and are expected to reduce current excesses of patient treatment in the current healthcare system, like running a test more than once or doubling up on patient histories. Deloitte stated in 2008 that "studies have found that up to 18 per cent of medical errors are due to the inadequate availability of patient information."
Implementation of the health identifiers is expected to assist in privacy issues related to healthcare; however, there have also been privacy issues raised. The minister for Health and Ageing said in a release that amendments would be made to the current Privacy Act to enable the Federal Privacy Commissioner to act against those found to be misusing identifiers.
The identifiers will be the backbone of a national e-health system, which has been in the hands of the National E-Health and Transition Authority (NEHTA) which last year developed a four-part e-health strategy for 2009 to 2012.
These included: "urgently" developing the foundations to enable e-health, coordinating the progress of priority e-health solutions and progresses, accelerating adoption, and leading the progression of e-health in Australia.
The strategy was formed based on recommendations by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) and Deloitte, which found record-keeping practices in Australian hospitals to be a "relic of the pre-computer age".