Skill shortage hinders health network

A lack of IT professionals trained in informatics may make the Federal Government's plans for a national health information network a near impossibility in the short term.

Enricho Coiera, Professor of Medical Informatics at the University of New South Wales, said there was a skills gap of people with information technology and health application knowledge.

"If the health online project is a 10 to 20-year program, we need to invest skills in this area, but this does not seem to be a priority.

"Internationally there is the same problem. Maybe in five years we would have the available skills to do this [sort of project]."

Roger Clarke, CEO for e-commerce and privacy consultancy Xamax Consultancy, agreed that there is a skills shortage, brought on in part by the lack of quality courses and suitably qualified instructors.

"There is a small proportion of IT people that know enough about these technologies, but they can't afford to teach as training doesn't pay enough for consultants."

Announced in the 2001-2002 Commonwealth Budget, HealthConnect will see the establishment of electronic health records. Under the system, a person's health-related information would be collected in a standard, electronic format at a point of care, such as a GP's clinic, and stored in a networked storage service.

Coiera believes that, unlike the banking industry, the move to sort out the health industry will be complicated. "Is there a national health care record system to cover 20 million people already in existence? No. It is a big and hard task and no nation our size has achieved a project of this sort."

Coiera said industries that have been successful in moving forward technologically have had money available to invest. This is not the case with Australia's healthcare institutions.

According to the Collaborative Health Informatics Centre's Australian E-Health Market 2001-2004 report, the average hospital in Australia spends 1.5 per cent of its budget on IT. This compares with companies in other sectors, which spend about 10 per cent.

"There is no fat on the clinical side and the idea of hospitals cutting their budget to spend more on IT infrastructure does not make sense."

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More about Collaborative Health Informatics CentreHealthConnectIT PeopleUniversity of New South WalesUniversity of New South WalesXamax Consultancy

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