Group demands funds, plans before e-health law

The Australasian College of Health Informatics has criticised legislation enabling the creation of an individual health identifier for all Australians, claiming that it establishes a framework for a system that has not yet been adequately planned and "may never exist".

The Australasian College of Health Informatics (ACHI) has criticised legislation enabling the creation of an individual health identifier for all Australians, claiming that it establishes a framework for a system that has not yet been adequately planned and "may never exist".

The government hopes that a unique healthcare identifier number could be assigned to patients and providers to improve the management of patient information. Medicare has been working with NEHTA to test and implement the identifiers. The Department of Health and Aging released draft legislation to enable the vision late last year.

However, the college thought the government was putting the cart before the horse.

"The draft seems to establish the framework for an e-health system that may never exist or be funded. It seems to ACHI the information available regarding any possible framework is also very scant and inadequate [...] the draft legislation leaves many important matters to regulation that has yet to be planned and does not leverage or comply with existing standards," it said in its submission. Formed in 2002, the ACHI is Australasia's peak health informatics professional body.

The ACHI and several other groups also claimed in submissions that the implementation of the health identifiers system has not been adequately addressed in the draft HI Bill.

"The establishment and broad implantation of a health identifier requires a comprehensive and mature legislative underpinning, which can be achieved by broad consultation," the group wrote.

Several advocacy groups also raised concerns about regulation, consumer access to information, outmoded technology and potential loopholes in definitions.

Australian Privacy Foundation stated in its submission that "the current exposure draft HI Bill is deeply flawed. It is both incomplete and inadequate in relation to privacy protection and meaningful input by health consumers."

Yet there was also a bevy of positive feedback from government departments such as the South Australian Department of Health, the Federal Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and the Bureau of Statistics, as well as from industry bodies such as the Health Information Management Association of Australia and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.