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Hurry it up: Public tells NEHTA

Clinicians and consumers have told Australia's peak e-health body to stop conducting pilots and speed up the roll out of a national electronic health record project, according to a report released yesterday.
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Written by Suzanne Tindal, News Editor on

Clinicians and consumers have told Australia's peak e-health body to stop conducting pilots and speed up the roll out of a national electronic health record project, according to a report released yesterday.

The report collated of issues discussed at recent round-table sessions in Brisbane, Alice Springs and Canberra, where over 150 people gathered to pass on their thoughts on electronic health records to the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).

NEHTA's level of community engagement was criticised last year in an independent review by the Boston Consulting Group.

The e-health group is the key central figure attempting to coordinate disparate state and federal government and private sector initiatives which are currently seeing billions of dollars ploughed into building e-health systems around Australia.

Round-table participants proposed a model where records with minimum information were rolled out — for example a health summary for involved individuals including immunisations, allergies, medications, problems, organ donor status, next of kin and contact details — until trust had been built up, when functionality could be increased.

"We really firmly believe — well, I certainly firmly believe that we have to have this in as soon as possible, and just suggested that yes, we won't get a perfect system up and running straight away, so let's get something up and running, and develop it as it goes," one consumer said.

His comments were echoed by a clinician. "I agree with the fact that we need to start, sort of, shallow and we need to get this out there now. The longer we wait, the more likely we are to have lots of little projects going on that are never going to talk to this project, so we need to get it out there," they said.

However, despite enthusiasm to get the show on the road, round-table participants wanted a high level of support along with the roll out, with concerns that parts of the health sector were not ready for implementation.

"The private sector, especially general practice, has done exceedingly well, I think, over the last decade; the public sector is woeful," a specialist said, commenting on how the degree to which each had dealt with supporting IT systems.

To prepare health organisations, financial incentives for training and the purchasing of software would be needed to encourage participation, the round-table found. Another concern was connectivity issues for rural areas, with one rural clinician raising the issue of network failure causing people to revert to paper systems.

The participants agreed that a critical mass of people using the records would be required, which spoke for an opt-out model, where people would have to tell their practitioners if they did not want to have an electronic record, although there were also arguments for opt-in.

The sessions found that consumers had the right to privacy, but the general consensus was that with protections in place, the benefits outweighed the risks.

NEHTA has been going through a period of change, with the CIO and CFO leaving just after the appointment of a new CEO.

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