Few answers from either party on eHealth

Labor's health spokesperson Tanya Plibersek is standing by the government's record of introducing the PCEHR and supporting telehealth in the lead up to this weekend's federal election.

Both Ms Plibersek and Opposition spokesperson for primary healthcare Andrew Southcott were offered the opportunity to outline their respective policies on eHealth. Dr Southcott is yet to reply.

Ms Plibersek said her government's investment in eHealth through the PCEHR had been “about building a better and smarter health system for the future”.

“It will mean patients won’t have to retell their story every time they see a different doctor,” she said in a statement. “They will have their medicines, allergies, organ donor status, and medical history with them wherever they go. Next comes diagnostic imaging reports, pathology reports and advanced care directives.”

Asked to detail the methods by which these reports will be uploaded, Ms Plibersek said “the government is working closely with the experts on how this new functionality can best be developed and rolled out”.

She said the acute care sector was “significantly engaged” with the system, “with some hospitals already hooked up, and many others to come before the end of this year”.

“We now have over 800,000 patients and around 5,000 health organisations signed up, and over 50 million Medicare documents uploaded – and this is growing all the time. Refinements to sign up procedures have already been made, and will continue based on feedback from patients and practitioners.

“The government will be working closely with clinicians, patients, and healthcare organisations with a view to continuously improving how eHealth is used to improve healthcare in Australia.”

Ms Plibersek did not answer questions on whether any new funding would be made available to help the aged care and community pharmacy sectors to participate.

She also did not answer questions on whether NEHTA would continue to be funded beyond June 30 next year or provide a response to questions regarding the recent mass resignations of NEHTA's clinical leads.

Shadow minister for health Peter Dutton issued a statement several weeks ago attacking Labor's record on the PCEHR, calling it a “$1 billion disappointment”.

Mr Dutton said that apart from what he claimed was “the very low take up rate”, the system itself was “deeply flawed”.

Mr Dutton is yet to respond to questions on how his party planned to fix this situation, or whether a new government would scrap the system completely.

“If elected, the Coalition will assess the true status of the PCEHR implementation and again work with health professionals and the broader sector to provide real results on this important reform for patient care,” Mr Dutton said.

The Coalition did outline some new policies as part of its eGovernment and digital economy platform, promising to seek to ensure that every government interaction that occurs more than 50,000 times a year can be achieved online by 2017.

In a policy statement released yesterday by shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull and shadow finance minister Andrew Robb, the Coalition promised to improve transparency over government ICT policy by introducing a digital dashboard to publish key metrics on government ICT performance and progress on major new investments.

It also promised to “publish league tables of agencies ranking performance on online engagement, platform-agnostic services, availability of data sets and customer satisfaction”.

The Coalition pinpointed the Department of Health and Ageing and in particular the Department of Human Services as “heavy” users of ICT in the Australian Public Service. Part of the policy is to designate three agencies “with high-volume client interaction to trial three services using next generation tele-presence, such as in-browser WebRTC, from 2014”.

The policy also stated that video-conferencing via technologies such as WebRTC “will be an acceptable substitute for physical proximity in most cases” for heavy government interaction.

It also promised to provide a digital inbox on an opt-in basis as a secure and permanent contact point for communications with the government “that can be used as a stand-alone ‘mailbox’ or on a ‘store and forward’ basis in combination with an email address, Australia Post Digital Mailbox or some other destination application.”

Heavy public sector users of ICT will be able to retain autonomy and control over operations, but will be required to increase accountability and transparency, the policy states.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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