WA government commits AU$8m to build an electronic medical record system

Touting it will deliver 'patient-centric' healthcare across the state.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The government of Western Australian has said it will commit AU$8 million to begin planning for a state-wide electronic medical record (EMR) system.

Once developed, the system will enable clinicians to view information such as patient notes, assessments, medical histories, and diagnostic test results in one place. It will also mean that patients no longer need to wait for medical records to be transferred between clinicians.

"The development of an electronic medical record system will enable information to be available across the full continuum of care -- not only promoting safety and quality but also saving lives," Western Australia Minister for Health Roger Cook said.

"It is wonderful to see the advancements being made in health as we progress on our digital journey, and planning for an electronic medical record system is a key component of this."

The system was one of the key recommendations of the Sustainable Health Review. Initially launched in June 2017, the review panel was tasked with delivering "a patient first, innovative and sustainable health system" for Western Australians. It delivered its final report [PDF] in April 2019.

The development of the WA state-based system would come despite the existence of My Health Record (MHR), the country's national e-health system, since 2012.

WA Health has told ZDNet that the two systems will be quite different from one another. 

"The national MHR is a patient-controlled summary of an individual's health information that can be viewed securely online," the agency said.

"An EMR is an information and communication technology solution that captures data from various clinical systems and applications. It provides benefit to both clinicians and consumers by bringing together a single, integrated view of a patient's record that is available to treating health professionals.

"Noting these are two different types of solution that serve different purposes, WA Health will continue to work in partnership with Australian Digital Health Agency to continue to upgrade applications to view, upload and promote the use of the MHR in routine clinical care."

Bettina McMahon, CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA), the system administrator for My Health Record, recently told the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit how there has been an increase in the use of My Health Record in the past few months. 

"We've seen a significant increase in the use of My Health Record by both consumers and healthcare providers, particularly over the last three months," she said.

"In relation to general practitioners, the month of March has seen the highest amount of viewing of documents yet, as well as uploads to track use."

According to McMahon, 95% of the public pathology labs in the country are uploading into the My Health Record, which she said was another threefold increase over the last year for tests being uploaded. 

As of May 25, there were 22.74 million My Health Records and 13.97 million records with information in them.  

Similar works are underway in New South Wales after eHealth NSW announced last August that all of the state's public hospitals would have access to electronic medical records by the second half of 2020 as part of eHealth NSW's wider efforts to make the state's health system more citizen-centric.

At the time, eHealth NSW CIO and CEO Zoran Bolevich outlined the EMR system would be used to support the eHealth's strategy to develop a Single Digital Patient Record (SDPR) that will be designed to give a holistic, state-wide view of a patient's healthcare information.   

"It is important for us to start looking at how we can link disparate electronic medical records databases so we can have a more continuous flow of patient information, and that's what we're trying to do with this piece of work," he said.

"We're trying to create a more consistent patient and clinician experience, especially for junior doctors and nurses who travel around the state and work in different types of hospitals … so there is a consistent look and feel everywhere."

Updated at 9:28am AEST, 13 August 2020: Additional WA Health comments added.

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