NBN speeds not necessary for healthcare identifier service

But healthcare experts say a more reliable infrastructure would help fast-track healthcare applications

The Labor government's proposed $43 billion national broadband network (NBN) isn't necessary for the rollout of the health record identifiers, according to the head of the National eHealth Transition Authority (NEHTA).

The comments were made at the health informatics conference on Tuesday, when ABC's Tony Jones moderated an e-health discussion with five industry representatives.

When Jones quizzed the panel about the need for the NBN, NEHTA CEO Peter Fleming said a reliable internet connection – not faster speeds - was the most significant requirement for the implementation of the healthcare identifier service (a system where a unique 16-digit number will be used to electronically link a patient's health records).

In this context, he said it didn't matter whether the reliability was delivered as part of the Labor government's proposed NBN or another project.

“The first thing from our perspective it isn't the bandwidth, it's the reliability, particularly if you go to remote regions, or indigenous communities, reliability becomes all-important,” Fleming said.

“There's no point in having a clinical system that's dependent on communication and information if you can't have a reliable system.

“Whether that's the NBN or some other system, reliability is important... what we're delivering today does not need huge bandwidth.”

However, once the healthcare identifier system is in place, he said this could facilitate applications that require the 100Mbps internet speeds, which the Labor government has promised to be delivered with the $43 billion NBN.

“As you look at the implementation of the e-health record and then what you can do with it as you start to roll out health management systems, the demands of bandwidth will increase substantially.

“There is a need for substantial bandwidth requirement as we move forward into the future, the immediate requirement is reliability.”

The sentiment was echoed by health information society of Australia president Michael Legg, who was previously a NBN-sceptic but believes it could facilitate significant improves in healthcare, especially in rural and remote communities.

“I am a supporter of the NBN, and I wasn't earlier in the piece. I think we can do a hell of a lot without the NBN, we all recognise that,” Legg said.

“One of the things we forget is what can happen when you have these things available to you... I'm absolutely convinced we would change and change faster if we had the NBN in place. Especially remote care, there's a massive difference.”

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