Government called on to step up leadership over e-health

Concerns over e-health issues arise as government pushes ahead with reforms

The Rudd Government needs to boost its leadership and learn from other countries implementing e-health strategies, according to a leading healthcare industry CIO.

Malcolm Thatcher, CIO of Queensland-based Mater Hospital, said the government needs to recognise and implement enablers for e-health, including the management of health identifiers, secure messaging, common terminologies, patient privacy and industry incentives and recognise that e-health is a complex challenge.

Thatcher also stressed the need for closer alignment among the state health bodies.

“I am not confident, yet still have hope that the Federal Government understands the commitment necessary to successfully implement e-health in this country – a commitment of time, large amounts of money and resources that go well beyond a single term of government,” he said.

“In general, I endorse the current approach towards an e-health platform from National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA), although my view is that this work is still in its formative stage and requires ongoing engagement with stakeholders, particularly the private sector, to give it any chance of success.”

Thatcher’s comments come on the back of an announcement by federal health minister Nicola Roxon, which touted new e-health legislation to improve the delivery of healthcare soon to be introduced into parliament.

The Healthcare Identifiers Bill 2010 proposes that unique healthcare identifiers be available on a secure system, operated by Medicare.

The system, which the government wants up and running within ten years, will be designed to hold patient records in one national database that can be accessed by different health professionals.

“The first step in creating an e-health system will come into effect in the middle of the year when unique healthcare identifiers are assigned to all health consumers as well as to health professionals and the organisations that provide health care in Australia,” the minister said in a statement.

Roxon is undergoing a nation-wide consultation process to discuss the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission's (NHHRC) proposed reforms with e-health stakeholders.

However Thatcher, a member of the NEHTA Stakeholder Reference Forum and supporter of unique identifiers, is apprehensive about the extent to which the government has heeded concerns surrounding the misuse of a patient’s data.

“Unique identifiers are a fundamental building block for the sharing of information,” he said. “A national system for patient and provider identifiers will not only assist healthcare organisations to improve the quality of their own data, but will also help facilitate the sharing of this data with other organisations.

“I still have concerns however about the extent to which the Government and NEHTA have thought through the need for providing a user-held token for the storage of the individual (patient) health identifier to avoid incorrect retrieval of patient identifiers based on demographic data and the human error.”

The government has encouraged interested people to contribute to the national health system debate on its website.

Additional reporting by AAP

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Tags Nicola RoxonNational Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC)Mater Hospitale-healthNEHTA

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