E-health ramp-up awaits GP software

The Australian government is banking on the roll-out of software for GPs to boost uptake of e-health records from 13,000 today to 500,000 at the end of June 2013.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Department of Health and Ageing has said it is pleased that 13,000 Australian residents have signed up for e-health records since July 1, and has downplayed the original forecast that 500,000 will be signed up by the end of June 2013.

Since the federal government's AU$466.7 million personally controlled e-health record (PCEHR) system launched on July 1, take-up has been slow. But the government has stated that a slow take-up was the aim.

In the 109 days since the launch (to October 17), there has been a total of 13,340 sign-ups for the records either online, on the phone, or in writing — an average of 122 people per day. On this average, just over 44,500 people will have signed up for the service by the end of June next year. A total of 791,764 documents have been uploaded to those records.

The official target for sign-ups is 500,000 in the first 12 months, and Rosemary Huxtable, deputy secretary for the Department of Health and Ageing, told Senate Estimates this week that software implementations in GP offices will help meet this goal.

"A number of software providers have incorporated the PCEHR into what is called a companion tool, and there are other software providers that are well advanced in enabling connectivity. So we will see a gradual upgrading of software into GP practices. That will happen over a period of time. The first tranche of that will start from around the end of this month," she said.

"The 500,000 figure was used for operational planning purposes to get a sense of where we would be heading in the first full year of operation."

She said that now that GPs can claim the cost of setting up patients' e-health records through Medicare, that will also drive adoption.

Department secretary Jan Halton said that she is "delighted" with the 13,000 sign-ups.

"We are not even at the point of having the GP software available, and yet, despite that, literally, day on day — we get the numbers every day of how many people have registered — I open it and think, 'Goodness me.' People really want this. It is amazing. Most of those registrations are coming online."

She said that 90 percent of all registrations are now coming online, although she admitted that there are issues with online registration.

"There are some barriers in terms of what is referred to in the trade as 'usability,'" she said. "Early adopters are giving us a lot of feedback about the registration process — some of the barriers, some of the issues, some of the challenges. When the GP software becomes available, this is when we actually expect to see, and when we indeed expect to drive registration."

National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) CEO Peter Fleming told the hearing that NEHTA is working with nine software vendors for the GP desktop software. By October 31, NEHTA has the objective of having the records working with the GP software. This would include the ability to upload summaries of patients' health records.

Following criticisms of the audit log produced for the activities occurring on e-health records, the authority has also begun redeveloping the log to make it more "user friendly" and readable.

The news comes as NEHTA confirmed to ZDNet earlier this month that contractors recruited to deliver the PCEHR have not had their contracts renewed following the completion of that portion of the project. The authority did not respond when asked how many contractors were affected by this.

Editorial standards