Big spending and big spinning budget for digital health

There was a lot of spin in Tuesday’s federal budget about what it means for digital health, but there was quite a lot of money too. The spin was about how the government was transforming digital health with its investment. The money was about half a billion dollars.

There was the previously announced $300m over two years for the My Health Record, which will be used for “leveraging the connections already in place and ensuring a more coordinated healthcare future for Australia”, whatever that means, “while also stimulating economic recovery from COVID-19” and “accelerating a new surge of innovations”.

Prime Minister Scotty from Marketing may have had a hand in that little bit of hyperbole and it turns out that most of the rest of the $503m for digital health is taken up with operational funding for the Australian Digital Health Agency and continued funding for the 2018-2022 intergovernmental agreement between the jurisdictions that supports systems like the HI Service and NASH.

There are some new, worthwhile initiatives though. There is $45.4m to roll out the electronic national residential medication chart (eNRMC) in residential aged care facilities, drive use and integration of My Health Record, and establish digital support for transitions between aged care and hospital settings.

Medication safety was high on the agenda of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which also recommended universal adoption of the MyHR and better interoperability between aged care, primary care and acute care. But with half of the 2700 or so RACFs not even using an electronic care management system, and only $45.4 million on offer, the government will struggle to reach its target of June 2023 for MyHR adoption and electronic meds management.

In primary care, there is $50m for infrastructure support for the new MyGP voluntary enrolment scheme, which is shaping up as the alternative to Health Care Homes, and primary health networks will be given money to assist aged care facilities to adopt telehealth and for supporting people to live at home longer.

There is also $7.2m for the development of an integrated electronic radiology referral system. This is an interesting one that we are looking for more detail on, as we suspect it is more part of the Department of Health’s revenue-saving hopes for MBS-funded diagnostic imaging than an efficiency tool for ordering scans. Digital mental health services will receive $111.2m over four years, which is substantial enough, although again we are looking for a little more detail.

Half a billion dollars sounds a lot and it is, but this was expected to be a big cash-splurge budget to get the economy primed and pumped as part of the pandemic recovery. It should be remembered, however, that a major assumption underpinning the entire budget was that all Australians will be vaccinated by the end of the year.

There is absolutely no certainty that this will happen. On our current trajectory, we may get the majority with their first shots administered but it is still possible that the second round will drag into next year. The government is refusing to set a real target, and the PM even said the day after the budget that full vaccination by the end of the year was not government policy. Someone should have told Treasurer Josh Frydenberg this, as it is exactly what he has built the budget on.

“The assumption is that every Australian who wants to get two shots of the vaccine (will be able to) by the end of the year,” Mr Frydenberg said in his post-budget press conference.

Not great optics for the budget, or the government’s vaccine roll-out. The states and territories may come to the rescue, along with much welcome deal with Moderna. Fingers crossed.

That brings us to our poll question for the week:

Is the $503m for digital health in the budget well targeted?

Vote here and feel free to leave your comments below.

Last week, we asked: Are governments paying too much for COVID-19 software? Absolutely, our readers say: 97 per cent said yes, and just three per cent said no.

Tags: Budget 2021

Comments  

+1 # SA Health staffer 2021-05-17 12:44
The Federal Government should stick to their core business of policy. They are not structured for delivery and as a result they are poor at execution.

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