Patients key to nurse national e-health

Experts say government has brushed off consumer needs in search for e-health solutions

Health experts have warned that Australia's national $466.7 million e-health records system is being rushed and lacks a consumer focus.

Industry pundits from Australian health services joined representatives from the UK National Health Service (NHS) and the Singapore Ministry of Health at the CeBIT 2010 conference in Sydney today in proposing the Federal Government should engage consumers before deploying its e-health initiative.

NHS "Connecting for Health" clinical architect, Dr Mike Bainbridge, said the government needs to engage consumers now about how e-health should be deployed.

"You have to move now to engage citizens," Dr Bainbridge said. "You don't have the luxury of 7 years of mistakes like we did."

Consumer advocacy was flagged as a pressing issue of e-health by conference delegates, with some also citing poor attention to standards and a need for the national deployment to be customised to meet separate state requirements.

Royal Flying Doctor Service project manager, Josie Di Donato, and Diabetes Australia health program leader, Louise Blatchford, both medical professionals, told Computerworld Australia that public consultation in e-health is little more than a token effort.

At a panel discussion held on e-health at CeBIT 2010, Di Donato and Blatchford said consumers should have a say in the construction of Australia's e-health system, including the services delivered and data stored.

Instead, Di Donato said consumers have been handed a pre-fabricated e-health system which may not fit their needs, and said the government should address variations in e-health needs by tailoring e-health to each state or region.

"The needs of people in the city are drastically different from those in regional areas," she said.

Blatchford echoed concerns by Health Informatics Society of Australia board member, David Rowlands, that the architecture of e-health is fractured, and said diabetes patients struggle to keep tabs on their medical records which are spread across "bits of paper" and electronic databases.

Rowlands, a 30-year veteran in the industry, was pragmatic and said Australia has tackled signifcant challenges in its e-health investments over the last decade.

"Australia has done well...The problem is that up until now there has been a lot of two to three-year projects, and only now is there a single effort," he said.

Rowlands said that many countries, including Australia, must drive e-health on consumer needs, not just clinical requirements.

PricewaterhouseCoopers national health practice leader, Mary Foley, said on the panel discussion that Australia's e-health deployment will be limited by network capabilities until the deployment of the National Broadband Network.

Industry professionals are also warning that details for the Government's proposed voluntary e-health records system are too scant, with no clear standards in place.

Shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, said he "saw waste in e-health" but stoppped short of confirming rumours the Opposition was planning to dump the policy if it got into power.

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