Hockey wants blood over e-health

Shadow Treasurer says he always takes a “strong line” on IT projects, but deflects question on whether e-health will be cut by the Opposition

The shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, wants blood over e-health.

After giving his detail-scarce budget response speech to the National Press Club this week, Hockey was asked if dumping e-health, a rumoured part of Liberal's election policy, was “short-sighted and stupid”.

But Hockey predictably side-stepped giving a real answer, a familiar theme in all of his responses to questions.

“I’ve always taken a strong line on investment in IT,” he said. “When I was Human Services minister there were programs in IT in health and Medicare that I wanted closed down because they were not delivering what I promised. Sadly, my successor re-birthed them and put more money into them and I suspect not much has been done.

"Other initiatives which we did launch in e-health such as electronic claiming of Medicare actually did deliver. Now you can swipe your Medicare card and claim back your payment at the doctors.”

Hockey went on to say that, at the time, he wanted to have an access card that would apply to wealth, healthcare and other areas so that “each department wasn’t separately investing in the same technology but for different purposes”.

“I saw waste in e-health. The fundamental issue about the current e-health initiative is this: The government hasn’t even delivered on its e-health identifier now," he said. "An e-health identifier is obviously hugely important to health records.

"Secondly I would want to see every state government sign up in blood that they are not going software programs that are incompatible when it comes to e-health records because you know what, I just don’t believe them when they say they have good intentions about harmonising the software that is going to be behind e-health records.”

He continued on to say the budget funding had a “great damn hole” after the first two years of funding for e-health. He did not answer the question.

After the Budget was announced last week, industry groups were cautious about the e-health funding announced by the Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, with worries the funding may not be enough and detail is too scant for a proper implementation.

Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA) president, Geoffrey Sayer, told Computerworld Australia, that while "any investment is a good investment," the devil is in the details about how the funding will actually translate to a national e-health system.

As predicted by industry groups, electronic health became the biggest point of ICT investment in the Federal Government's 2010 Budget, with Swan announcing a $466.7 million commitment to deliver voluntary, personally controlled electronic patient records over two years.

The e-health funding is part of a larger, $2.2 billion investment in the health sector which the Government expects to fund through the increased cigarettes excise, amounting to $2.3 billion over the next two years.

In delivering the Budget, Swan said the opt-in records system - which will provide health history, pathology and radiology summaries and prescription information - would help modernise the health system and would improve "patient safety and health care delivery". It would also help to reduce cost duplication in the health sector.

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Tags e-healthjoe hockeyTreasurer Wayne SwanBudget 2010

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