PCEHR launch “the softest in history”: AMA

AMA president Steve Hambleton has characterised last week's launch of the PCEHR as “probably the softest launch of a major government initiative in Australian political history”, saying the target of the PCEHR was a noble one but the process in getting there was not.

Writing in today's issue of MJA InSight, Dr Hambleton said confusion still reigned on how the system will work, including questions on the identify verification system, software compatibility, clinical coding and secure messaging.

He pointed to confusion among senators involved in the Senate Estimates committee hearing last month, who discussed a shared health record.

“[But] the PCEHR is not a shared health record — it is a personally controlled e-health record that contains a point-in-time health summary that is curated by a nominated health care provider,” Dr Hambleton wrote.

“The Senators — everybody, in fact — need to understand that the shared health summary is not the same as the information held by a person’s GP. It is an extra piece of work that provides a subset of the GP’s patient record, which is accurate only for the period of time in which it was created.

“It won’t contain details of someone’s MRI scan, it won’t contain pathology results, and it won’t contain diagnostic imaging. Not yet, anyway.”

The pathology sector is expected to begin working towards including pathology results in the PCEHR by developing national standards for electronic reporting of pathology results by June 30 next year.

Dr Hambleton complained that there had been no information on how the system was supposed to operate at the consulting room level.

“Most GPs do not even know if their practice software is compatible,” he wrote. “I know that my software is not compatible.”

He reiterated the AMA's long-standing call for GPs to be remunerated for work on the PCEHR, arguing there was a long way to go to get a critical mass of GPs interested in the project. The AMA took part in discussions as a member of United General Practice Australia (UGPA) with Health Minister Tanya Plibersek in Canberra in the week leading up to the launch of the PCEHR.

In a statement issued after that meeting, the AMA said it had reiterated its concerns that there was “no new Medicare funding to compensate doctors for the extra work needed to be undertaken to prepare and maintain quality useful shared health summaries for the PCEHR.”

UGPA also called for “a review of timelines for the PCEHR implementation to allow general practices a more gradual uptake in line with their capacity to sign up to the PCEHR”.

It also recommended that the changes to the eHealth practice incentive program (PIP) announced in the May budget be delayed until the PCEHR is fully established.

Dr Hambleton said UGPA representatives had told Ms Plibersek that they wanted the PCEHR to work. “We want it to work for our patients and for ourselves,” he wrote. “We see the electronic health record as a key productivity tool in health.

“But we have more than a long way to go to get anything like a critical mass of GPs interested in this scheme, and I doubt that many of them will be prepared to do it for free.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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