Skinner outlines four-year plan for NSW eHealth

NSW is planning to introduce a uniform email system for all NSW Health staff, along with a range of new phone apps to provide patients with up to date information on location and availability of health services and waiting times.

Speaking today at a Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) function in Sydney, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner nominated health IT as one of four key elements in transforming healthcare delivery in the state.

Ms Skinner said the government had allocated nearly $400 million over four years – most of which was announced in last year's budget – to implementing eHealth improvements, including the $170 million already allocated for electronic medication management systems, $85 million on rolling out and improving current electronic medical record systems and $43 million on new clinical information systems to provide a single point that collates all relevant data to assist clinicians in intensive care units.

While no details are available as to which vendors have been chosen to deliver any new aspects of these existing systems or when expressions of interest would be invited, she said all three will be integrated.

“We are also investing over $90 million to upgrade our corporate systems and to built new networks, data centres and messaging solutions which will allow us to implement telehealth on a wider scale and allow for a common access email system that will connect all staff in all areas of NSW Health,” Ms Skinner said.

“It surprised me enormously when I became the minister and I asked the director-general could I send an email to all the staff working in the system and to my surprise the director-general said we didn't have a system that could do that across the whole of NSW Health, in fact there were different systems in local districts.”

Ms Skinner also detailed some of the changes within the eHealth bureaucracy, saying a new NSW eHealth division had been created as a separate division from Health Support Services (HSS), which previously administered shared health IT along with other shared services such as payroll, accounts, food service and linen.

“We really wanted to focus on eHealth as being such an important component of the health reforms, especially going forward,” Ms Skinner said. “We have some of the same staff but there will be new positions created, and watch this space for advertising for that.”

It is understood that more detail on NSW eHealth will be revealed at the Health Informatics Conference in Sydney in late July, which is being co-sponsored by the new division.

Ms Skinner also announced that NSW Health was in the process of developing a series of new phone apps to help provide patients with up to date information about the location and availability of health services, waiting times and schedules, and advice about medication management.

“[Such apps include] the Carb Counter app that I saw launched at Royal North Shore Hospital recently,” she said. “It was developed there specially for their clients to help diabetic patients maintain constant blood glucose levels. A simple app, specifically tailored for those patients; what a difference it makes to the way they live their lives.”

She said an app for the electronic blue book, which has been developed by NSW Health as part of the work the Greater Western Sydney Wave 2 site is doing in preparation for the PCEHR, would be launched in the next couple of weeks. She was able to demonstrate a model of the app from her personal iPad.

“I showed a young person in my family who has a child aged two, and he said 'when can I get it'. I think it will bring people into the involvement of managing their own healthcare.”

On the PCEHR, Ms Skinner reiterated NSW's commitment to ongoing funding for its development under its COAG obligations. She said she was in favour of the project but believed that the development of agreed standards had been too slow and expectations on the launch date too high.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the introduction of personally controlled electronic health records has the potential to revolutionise medical practice,” she said. “It can enhance the quality of outcomes for patients and significantly reduce costs to the system as a whole.

“As of July 1, people in NSW have access to the new system which allows their personal health records to be accessed online. And while I recognise there are still major issues to be faced, such as determining what should be on the record, who should have access to the record and who should control that access, it will take many years to get this sorted out properly.

“Unless patients believe that the system is being operated for their individual benefit and not simply to make life easier for the bureaucracy, then they will neither include the information that should be included or grant the access that should ideally be granted. On the other hand, unless the treating clinician or nurse feels that they are dealing with a record that is both comprehensive and has integrity, they will be reluctant to rely upon it to the extent to which they should. So we need to get all of those factors correct.”

She said that with the inclusion of the $400 million announced in last year's state budget, NSW was now committed to spending more than $1.5 billion over 10 years on health IT. Although she did not say so, this figure includes commitments made by the previous government.

“The NSW health system can boast one of the largest IT portfolios of any government or corporate organisation in the country, with an investment of more than $1.5 billion over 10 years. It provides better systems so that clinicians have at their fingertips all the information that they need to do their jobs such as instant access to patient history, medical imaging and pathology results, and online access to the latest medical research.

“NSW has now achieved a level of electronic medical record maturity within our hospitals with electronic orders, results, operating theatre and emergency department electronic records rolled out to more than 80 per cent of beds across the state. With 75,000 clinicians trained to use this patient record system, and with more than 5000 unique users every day, NSW leads the way with Australia's largest eHealth program and one of the most comprehensive electronic medical record systems in use in health internationally.”

Ms Skinner also announced that her department had recently held “industry soundings” to gauge private sector interest in developing a public-private partnership to build the long-promised Northern Beaches Hospital at Frenchs Forest.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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