Fed Govt set e-health expectations too high: Skinner

The Australian Government has been slammed by the NSW Government for failing to meet expectations with its e-health record system, launched last weekend.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

New South Wales Health Minister Jillian Skinner has criticised the Federal Government for setting expectations too high on its 1 July e-health record launch.

Julian Skinner
(Credit: Josh Taylor)

Since Sunday, Australians have been able to register for a personally controlled e-health record (PCEHR), either via phone, in a Medicare office or by mailing in a form to Medicare. Much of the functionality for the system, including letting doctors put information in the records and connect their own systems to the PCEHR system, has yet to be implemented.

By contrast, NSW already boasts a substantial e-health record system in hospitals, with over 80 per cent of hospital beds covered with a system that keeps orders and results across the hospital, emergency departments and operating theatres. More than 75,000 clinicians have been trained to use the system, and it is utilised by 5000 unique users every day.

Speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) lunch in Sydney yesterday, Skinner said that the NSW Government is working with the federal e-health system, but will not wait for it.

"We're continuing to move on, and we'll continue to move with them. We're not waiting for that, because I think it is so important," she said. "But I worry that the expectations that have been raised there, but people think they're going to have everything singing and dancing as of last Sunday. That is not the case. I think it was very slow to start, and it has gathered momentum now, but it was slow."

Skinner said that work on the development of standards slowed down the pace of the preparation for the federal e-health record system. The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA), which is charged with developing the national e-health system, is funded jointly by the Commonwealth and the states in a 70-30 split. Skinner would not comment on whether the NSW Government will need the Commonwealth Government to chip in a greater proportion of the funding when the current agreement expires later this year.

Skinner said that in addition to overcoming teething problems, work needs to be done to foster trust in the new system.

"Unless patients believe that the system is being operated for the individual benefit, and not simply to make life easier for the bureaucracy, then they will neither include the material which ideally should be included or grant access that should ideally be granted."

Skinner said that the NSW Government is investing AU$400 million in IT over the next four years. Included in this funding is AU$170 million for a new electronic medication-management system, AU$85 million for e-health records, AU$43 million for new clinical information systems and over AU$90 million to upgrade corporate IT, build new networks and datacentres. Skinner said today that one project is to get the entire health department on one email system.

"It surprised me enormously when I became minister and asked the director general could I send an email to all staff in the system ... we didn't have a system that could do that across New South Wales Health. In fact, there were different systems across different districts."

Skinner said that all of the reforms were designed with a focus on enhancing patient care and "devolving" the bureaucracy within New South Wales Health.

Editorial standards