Suspended e-health plans now on track

Workshops and the trial sites for e-health roll-out in Australia had to be stopped in the course of the election, but they're now back on track, according to National e-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) CEO Peter Fleming.

Workshops and the trial sites for e-health roll-out in Australia had to be stopped in the course of the election, but they're now back on track, according to National e-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) CEO Peter Fleming.

Green light

With the election over, e-health now has the green light. (Green traffic light image by Hugo, CC BY-ND 2.0)

In the 2010 election campaign, it was unclear what the Coalition was intending to do instead of the $466.7 million investment in e-health outlined by Labor in the May budget; the spend was expected by many to be reduced significantly. According to Fleming, this meant any projects that didn't come under the Council of Australian Governments budgets were put on hold while the outcome was determined.

"Anything that came under the $466.7 million the Commonwealth had announced we needed to be fairly quiet on. We were still working but not on that particular component," Fleming told ZDNet Australia.

"Prior to the election being called we had actually started a series of workshops around the concept of operations for an electronic health record and also the architecture [and] when we went into caretaker mode those workshops had to be stopped," Fleming said. "But they've been reconvened, almost immediately as you'd expect, and the intention there is to get a very diverse series of views from all of our key stakeholders, document that and publish it for very wide input."

The work on the three test sites for e-health records also had to be halted.

"Because we've been in caretaker mode and the announcements [on the three e-health record trial sites] were made just before, we haven't been able to enter into extended dialogue on that," Fleming told ZDNet Australia. "We're now in deep dialogue with the three sites but more importantly we're bringing in external parties into that dialogue now."

Peter Fleming

Peter Fleming(Credit: NEHTA)

With the Federal Government's investment in e-health now secured due to the Labor Party's return to power, Fleming said these three sites will serve as the catalyst for kicking off e-health around the country.

"What you can expect to see is a very strong focus on implementations. Firstly around implementation of the [health identifier] services in the foundation program and then around implementation of the next level of our work program, which is things like discharge referrals. And that will ultimately lead to the [personally controlled e-health record]," he said.

Fleming said much of the next phase would involve speaking with the public about what consumers want from an e-health record, but he said that the general idea was to have a key set of data available via an online portal.

"It will be distributed, so there won't be one big massive repository. We will know where your data is distributed not too dissimilar to the way Google operates today. One thing we would expect is that there would be a summary health profile that has the major data that would be required in certain emergency situations.

"The idea is absolutely that the individual owns that record and they will grant access to others to use it," Fleming said, reiterating that it was the consumer's choice to opt-in to the records.

Fleming believed that the 2012 deadline for e-health records was still workable for NEHTA.

"It's a good deadline; it's tight schedules, but what you will see is a series of incremental deliveries to get to that point."

E-health and the NBN

In the course of the election campaign, Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised $392 million to encourage online consultations with doctors via video-conferencing technology. The investment was expected to make good use of the National Broadband Network, which now has a regional focus because of a deal to secure the votes of Independent MPs. Fleming said that Labor's deal with the Independents would change NEHTA's delivery of e-health.

"Regional Australia has always been one of our priorities; it is an area we see a substantial return on investment in the short term," he said.

However, Fleming did highlight what the NBN would mean for e-health service deliveries in the future.

"I think [video-conferencing] is a perfect example of where we will be working together [with the NBN]. The foundation works with existing networks but as you progress forward it's not hard to see that demand on bandwidth increasing," he said.

"The other, more important, aspect there is it's not so much the bandwidth in the short term it's the reliability; there's no point talking clinical services in remote areas unless you have that guaranteed up-time that goes with it."


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