Doctors still wary of Net-based patient records

The chances of the federal government's key project to get health records online becoming a "white elephant" rests with keeping doctors onside, said the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care.

Dr Michael Wooldridge confirmed the controversial project would definitely go ahead, but acknowledged creating a system that doctors would use was a big task.

"Privacy and security are key considerations in the move to the Internet for the industry. But the Internet also offers exciting opportunities for the sector to do tasks more quickly and securely than by mail or phone."

While the proposal to establish a national health information network, HealthConnect, gained the unanimous support of all Australian health ministers in July 2000, the Australian Medical Association voiced concerns about security and privacy (CW September 11, p1).

The NSW government has already announced that its system of linked electronic health records (EHRs) would be in operation within two years, with the first stage of the system expected to start later this year.

Under the national HealthConnect scheme, health-related information about an individual would be collected in a standard electronic format at a hospital or a GP's surgery.

Health providers, with the consumer's consent, would then be able to access this information, regardless of location across Australia.

The concept states consumers, who could choose not to participate, would also have access to this information.

Questions of when this system will be up and running are still unanswered, but the key concerns centring on privacy and security remain.

Senior adviser to Dr Wooldridge, Dr John Nearhos said the security for the project would be PKI-based and similar to the Australian Taxation Office's Business Activity System (BAS), which uses encryption and digital certificates.

"The policy surrounding the process is the most difficult part of the [project]. We are working with the Privacy Commissioner on how to get all the states and territories to cooperate to get a consistent [EHR] system." Nearhos said.

"If one state is going ahead with a system, that is fine, but we need to agree on a minimal set of standards, and this is happening."

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