PCEHR lost in the political turmoil
It seems like just yesterday that Department of Health CIO Paul Madden was taking great delight in taking the mickey out of Pulse+IT's seemingly obsessive reporting on all things PCEHR.
In fact, it was at the Rural Medicine Australia (RMA) conference in Sydney last November, when Mr Madden, responding to our question as to why most people found out about what was happening with the PCEHR through the pages of Pulse+IT rather than official channels like NEHTA or DoH itself, gently mocked us for writing about its slings and arrows so constantly.
We're still writing about it, but it's getting harder and harder to keep up the enthusiasm for what now seems to be considered a forgotten relic of previous adventures. Figures on the tiny amount of shared health summaries on the system seem to show that most GPs have lost their enthusiasm entirely. (After one year of operation, the PCEHR contained 2000 SHSs; by the end of two years of operation, this had grown to 23,000. Last December, the number was 38,200.)
And we don't expect the situation to improve in the short term. Newly appointed health minister Sussan Ley has enough on her plate at the moment placating the hordes of GPs who have burst into rare, unified voice over the mooted changes to Medicare rebates and the on-again, off-again GP co-pay, so we don't expect her to have much time to consider the fate of the PCEHR any time soon.
She may well have to with the next federal budget looming in May. If the government wants to find some savings, the tidy $100 million or so that it costs to run the PCEHR might be saved if the government decides to shut the whole thing down. While some in the eHealth sector wouldn't have a problem with this in the slightest, it still raises the question of whether we will see similar sized investments in eHealth ever again.
The fate of NEHTA also rests in the balance. Remember back to the Royle review, when the panel recommended that it be dissolved and a new authority established? Nothing has been heard about that since, although the organisation's seeming terminal decline was prolonged for an extra year with an injection of funds in the 2014 budget. But with only a couple of months to go until the circus starts up again, its odds of surviving continue to look bleak.
What to do about the PCEHR is further clouded by confirmation from the department just last week that it hasn't even received the government's response to the Royle review or the consultations meetings that were held in September. Former health minister Peter Dutton seems to have forgotten to finish that piece of work before he departed, unlamented by most, to the wilds of immigration and border control.
So, we have no government response to the review, a new minister on training wheels learning about a hugely complex portfolio, and a make-or-break budget looming in three months. Will the PCEHR stay? Will NEHTA go? And what, many will ask, has been achieved so far after funnelling almost $1 billion into a system that very few seem to be using?
Your thoughts are most welcome.