Labor launches e-health records

$12.5 million of funding provided over two years to three GP communities in Queensland, NSW and Victoria

Sites in Brisbane, the Hunter Valley and Melbourne's eastern suburbs will receive $12.5 million over two years as the starting point for the Labor party’s proposed $466.7 million e-health records policy.

Three general practitioner networks - GPpartners in Brisbane, GP Access in the Hunter Valley and the Melbourne East GP Network - will receive the funding to implement both the e-health records and unique health care identifiers for patients, providers and hospitals, as well as electronic discharge summary and referrals systems.

Funding for the e-health project was earmarked in the 2010/2011 Federal Budget, but thus far no details have been released as to how that money would be spent, or what standards would be adopted for inter-compatibility of e-health record systems, confusing industry groups and healthcare providers. The government organisation charged with implementing the systems, the National eHealth Transition Authority (NeHTA) has largely remained silent on the topic.

Health minister, Nicola Roxon, has suggested that under Labor’s plan, Medicare Australia may be considered to host the e-health record data in addition to the unique identifiers it has already implemented and assigned to 97 per cent of Australians.

It is also known that the e-health records will be voluntary and personally controlled by the patient, allowing them to determine what information is visible to healthcare providers, and which providers have access to the record. The records are also likely to tie into a new $392.3 million initiative that would see the Government issue Medicare rebates for medical consultations conducted online over the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Of the three clinics chosen, the Brisbane-based GPpartners has been the most active in the e-health arena, implementing its Health Record eXchange (HRX) in 400 providers including Queensland’s Metro North Health Service District over the last five years. As at February this year, the implementation had seen a 26 per cent reduction in the cost of administering patients, with 1320 patients having been registered on the system by June 2008.

In a letter to local newspaper, Northside Chronicle, GPpartners chair, Dr Henry Brian, dismissed the privacy concerns that have dogged the rollout of e-health records nationally, saying that a system would simply save lives.

GP Access in the Hunter Valley provides internal administrative services to general practitioners in its network. The Melbourne East GP Network currently runs an e-health Practice Incentives Program (PIP) using the NeHTA-compliant Argus secure messaging protocol.

In addition to the $12.5 million provided by the Federal Government, the Queensland and NSW State Governments will each commit $1.2 million to support their respective GP communities, with NSW pledged to integrate its Healthelink pilot program with the national rollout through NeHTA.

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