E-health debate intellectualized to stagnation

Intellectualized debate is stalling progress towards a national electronic health records system, according to Intersystems Australia managing director Denis Tebutt.

Instead of debating privacy concerns, he said, stakeholders need to roll up their sleeves and get moving on the HealthConnect project.

"The technology needed is mature enough to be fully deployed, but like all major projects, [some of the] stakeholders are spending more time writing research papers into why it will not happen as opposed to making it work," Tebutt said.

On a national tour demonstrating a working model for proposed electronic health records to state and federal government departments, Tebutt said privacy concerns are being used as an excuse.

Based on his experience at Intersystems, which is a well -established health provider in the US, Tebutt said HealthConnect is being reduced to an intellectual discussion.

"The challenge is not to attempt to effect repudiation but create the benefit for individual consumers and entities involved and then engage the privacy commission to say how we [as vendors] deal with the problem. At the end of the day private information is freely available one-on-one (such as through a consultation) but the minute you make that information available electronically people get concerned," he said.

"We [vendors, stakeholders] need to stop thinking about developing the technology per se and get engaged with partners and begin development." National e-health implementation director Dr Brian Richards said privacy is a key policy issue for the success of HealthConnect, adding that the federal government is now in the implementation phase of the project after four years of research and development.

And yes, Richards says, the sleeves are rolled up.

"We are working closely with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner because adequate protection of private information is fundamental to the ongoing success of HealthConnect," Richards said.

"It is good practice to have privacy impact statements of IT systems being put in place as we clearly expect any IT system within HealthConnect's strategic framework to comply with privacy law.

Richards said the first priority for the commonwealth government is to get the HealthConnect system running in Tasmania, Northern Territory and South Australia.