National health database every integrator's dream

Australia could soon have a national database containing the details of all medical professionals across the country, following a meeting today of Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to discuss its creation.

Australia could soon have a national database containing the details of all medical professionals across the country, following a meeting today of Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to discuss its creation.

Although bodies such as the Australian Medical Association (AMA) have been at odds with the council over how registrations should be handled — COAG is discussing a single national agency to encompass registration functions — they believe that a national database — which will allow practitioners to move easily between states and help monitor their performance — is needed. A spokesperson for the AMA said: "The one major agreed thing is that everyone wants a database."

"There are similar databases within each state. It's just a matter of marrying them," the spokesperson continued.

This would involve an extensive IT integration according to Alan Hansell, advisor at analyst firm IBRS. "The only practical solution would be that they share their data and agree on common protocols for update and deletion," he said, adding that the states would have to agree on ownership rights for the data.

It could be a one to two year exercise according to Hansell, and will require the willingness of the states to cooperate, he said.

"The integration of the IT won't be simple because there will be a lot of extraneous data in varying formats from colleges and states that will have to be rationalised," he said.

"For practitioners with the basic medical qualifications it's not a difficult exercise. It's complicated by having to create a hierarchy for the specialists."

"Clearly it's challenging," a spokesperson for the Australian Medical Council said. "It would require an enormous amount of effort to make sure the data was clean."

Some doctors have multiple records in different states, and a unique identifier would have to be created for them, the spokesperson continued.

A lot of work has been done in the past on a national register, Australian Index of Medical Practitioners, but it remains to be seen how much of that work will be recovered, the spokesperson said.