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Roxon locks in timeline for major e-health initiatives

by Kristen Hammond •
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Federal Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon has outlined the timeline and implementation guidelines for several key e-health initiatives integral to the Government’s health reform agenda.  But implementation activity will now cease as departments go into ‘caretaker mode' ahead of the Federal election.  In a statement issued on 7 July 2010, Ms Roxon noted the reform activities already underway, while also clarifying the delivery date for other initiatives. 

The Minister expects that individuals will be able to register online for a personally controlled electronic health record, seen as a crucial e-health initiative, by July 2012.

However, procurement processes to select the implementation partners for personal electronic health record program cannot now proceed until after the election.

Roxon identified the passing of key legislation (the Healthcare Identifiers Act 2010) as the first key milestone in the e-health strategy.  This legislation enables all Australians to receive a unique health identifier.  

Roxon acknowledged that reforming the health system would be a ‘complex and extensive task’ and that it is ‘vital that the implementation of these extensive reforms is carefully planned and well- executed’.  According to Intermedium’s analysis of the 2010-11 Budget, health received approximately one in every three dollars of ICT expenditure in this financial year.  Of this funding, e-health has received a $466.7 million commitment over the next two years.

On July 13, The Australian reported that the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) is well aware of the tight timeframe the July 2012 target posed for the implementation of the scheme.  It has has already worked with a range of ICT multi-nationals, the article said.

NEHTA Chief Peter Fleming told the Australian he “will be looking for partners in the private sector that will work with us as we go through the journey of implementing the unique healthcare identifier program, the packages such as discharge referral and then the electronic health record”.

Fleming gave no detail about the possibility of tenders, but did indicate that, in order to keep to Roxon’s timeline, things would have to happen ‘fairly quickly’.  Fleming also said that IBM, Accenture and CSC had all already provided some services to NEHTA predominantly around security frameworks and authentication systems.  He also suggested that there would be no one single implementation partner, but rather a range of niche technology partners.

Provided the Labor Government is returned, scheduled reforms for later this year include the formation of a telephone-based counselling service for alcohol problems, and introduction of innovative programs to tackle binge drinking.

Roxon indicated that several important reforms would be implemented by July 2011:

  • Development of an after-hours GP telephone service which every Australian, regardless of location, will be able to access any time of the day or night;
  • Introduction of the first Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks, dedicated to improving local health services; and
  • Commencement of aged-care ‘one-stop-shops’, which Intermedium’s analysis of the 2010-11 Annual Procurement Plan indicates is due to occur late this year.

The Federal government announced the e-Health initiative as part of the National Health and Hospital Network reforms in the Budget in May this year.  e-Health was billed as a strategy to improve healthcare delivery by transforming the way information is used to plan, manage and deliver health services through more efficient use of information technology to facilitate electronic access, transmission and recording of health information.

The strategy prescribed that national action will be focused in four key areas:

  • Implementing the national ‘health information highway’ infrastructure to allow information to be seamlessly accessed.
  • Stimulating investment in high priority computer systems and tools.
  • Encouraging health sector participants to adopt and use high priority systems and tools.
  • Establishing e-health governance regime to enable coordination of national e-health activities.

It is hoped that e-health will reduce healthcare costs and the incidence of medical errors related to poor access to patient history through the provision of clear, readily available information.

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  • Federal
  • Health
  • 2010-11 Budget
  • eHealth
  • healthcare identifiers
  • Medicare
  • Nicola Roxon