Speaking at the recent Australian Health Summit, Minister Tony Abbott announced that the Federal Government would fast track the roll-out of shared electronic health record system for remote and indigenous areas in the Northern Territory. This is designed to enable follow-up of health issues raised in child health checks in indigenous communities. However, infrastructure difficulties could well limit its implementation.
This announcement is another component of the Federal Government's Health Connect Strategy that aims to improve safety and quality in health care by establishing standardised electronic health information products and services for health care providers and consumers.
Outlining how the electronic health records systems will assist the health check program, the Minister repeatedly used the phrase "if the infrastructure is available", suggesting that implementation of the system could be hampered by shortcomings in infrastructure and services in remote areas. This could well be an opportunity for infrastructure providers!
The Minister also alluded to the political and technical issues involved in eHealth, confirming that the Government had decided against creating a single, national electronic health record "designed and managed by officials". He said, "In health IT, the Government's role is to remove regulatory barriers, provide incentives for change, promote 'inter-operability' of systems and explain to the public how and why e-health can improve their health care experience."
However, the Government clearly is committed to eHealth initiatives. In its 2007-08 procurement plan, the Department of Health and Ageing (DHA) listed a requirement for “consultants to undertake a scoping exercise and implementation planning for an electronic continuous client record for community care”. DHA indicated that it was going to market for this item in the first quarter of 2007-08.
As yet no tender has been issued for this requirement. However in his speech the Minister announced that the Government would shorty go to tender for organisations to facilitate, in a particular region or community, a comprehensive e-health environment. Successful organisations will be required to co-ordinate health professionals and providers to facilitate electronic sharing of information, but will be paid based on the volume of information transmitted electronically.
Other key procurement items listed by DHA in the 2007-08 procurement plan are:
- website review;
- internet gateway services; and
- provision of mid range servers.