Academic says HealthConnect will not meet Abbott's timeframe

Health Minister Tony Abbott's ambitious plan to have an electronic health record system operational is highly unlikely to meet a 12 month timeframe according to Dr David More, adjunct professor of Health Informatics at the University of Canberra.

Raising serious doubts about the federal government's ability to meet Abbott's strict schedule, Dr More said the only way the deadline can be met is if doctors get a working client system that is linked to HealthConnect up and running within the next few months.

Dr More, who is a Fellow of the Australian College of Health Informatics, said the government should have committed "real money" to an electronic health record system years ago.

"To have HealthConnect operational, doctors need to have a working and usable client on their desks immediately; this client will need to have advanced clinical decision support and use a fully standards-based infrastructure as well as provide for proper management of privacy and data security," More said.

"The task to develop and implement such a client nationally is just too big to be completed within 12 months. HealthConnect has so far been a seven-year project and look how far it is from that outcome today.

"Our medical system is based on a fee for service per item of service, so the incentive is for a doctor to get as many people through the practice as possible to maximize what he bills," he said, adding that the implementation of new technology will slow doctors down.

"Widespread adoption of a new client system will be slow without major financial incentives to make up for the costs and reduced income."

More also said the Australian medical software industry may not have the skills and expertise available to meet the demands of developing and implementing systems for a national electronic health system without a major injection of funds.

"The government needs to get serious about the amount of money it is prepared to spend in order to get such a system actually working," he said. "To try and duplicate the technology doctors already have would not make sense; they need intelligent, networked systems."

Dr More pointed to the UK's e-health program where the government has committed £10 billion ($23.5 billion) over 10 years.

The US has also committed billions to an electronic health record system over the next few years.

"Essentially we are talking megabucks to implement an advanced electronic system and to do it properly," he said.

In the 2005 Federal budget handed down in May, the government made available $20 million over three years for an electronic health record system.

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