E-health diverts funding away from other healthcare services

E-health has been used as a political football, which takes funding away from other health services, according to the medical practitioner who reviewed the UK government's e-health record implementation.

E-health has been used as a political football, which takes funding away from other health services, according to the medical practitioner who reviewed the UK government's e-health record implementation.

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

Panellists discussed a number of issues, including the merits of e-health, which was debated by UK professor Trisha Greenhalgh, (who conducted the independent review of Britain's national health service summary care record project) and technology vendor Intersystems's CEO Professor Stan Capp.

The debate was sparked after Jones quoted former British prime minister Tony Blair, who said in 1998, “if I live in Bradford and get sick in Bloomsbury, I want the doctor to have my health records”.

Professor Greenhalgh said this quote sparked the idea for the summary care record and was an example of how e-health has been used to drive the political agenda.

“I am quite irritated by that quote, because it's naïve,” Greenhalgh said. “It implies that when you're sick there will be a button pressed and up will pop a piece of information that's complete, accurate and just what's needed to make a decision and the decision couldn't be made without that information.

“These speculative cases of the person that comes in flat, and cannot tell you what's going on, are very much a political agenda, they're highly emotive, they're extreme cases.”

Intersystems has been contracted to provide technology for a number of e-health projects around the world, including in Sweden, and Capp's response was that data shows there are benefits of a treated practitioner having information about a person that is comatose, unconscious or unable to communicate.

Greenhalgh agreed there is a benefit to have an e-health record but said that medical practitioners primarily use physiological readings to make decisions in emergency situations.

“I'm a medical doctor, as many people in the room are medical doctors, and I can tell you what happens when someone comes in unconscious, you don't know whether they're allergic to penicillin or not, you don't give them penicillin... you err on the side of caution."

She questioned the benefit of funding e-health projects ahead of other healthcare services.

“Achieving the availability of a universal electronic record occurs at an opportunity cost and the question that I don't think has been answered is, is it worth the candle?" she said.

“What services are you cutting in order to make that very rare scenario of 'press the button and up pops the information'?”

One solution is to ensure that e-health services are effective and will create opportunities for better healthcare, she said.

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