Budget 2014: confusion still reigns on PCEHR

Health Minister Peter Dutton has refused to commit to a timetable for a decision on the future of the PCEHR despite funding its operation for an extra year, leaving one software vendor to call a halt to its PCEHR compliance work.

The government yesterday committed $140.6 million in the budget to support the operation of the system for another 12 months, but Mr Dutton said the government would continue to consider the recommendations of the Royle review over the coming months before making a decision on its future.

Confusion also surrounds the future of the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA), funding for which runs out on June 30. NEHTA, which has received extra funding from the federal government since the PCEHR scheme was announced in 2010, is co-funded by the states and territories and any decision on its future would need to be decided at COAG.

In a message to members, Australasian College of Health Informatics (ACHI) president Chris Pearce said he understood that NEHTA will continue, “but with what role and what degree of funding is undefined”.

“Future progress is likely to involve the states more,” Dr Pearce said.

The lack of clarity on the future of the PCEHR is expected to have an effect on the development plans of many clinical software vendors. The founder of allied health software specialist myPractice, Glen Germaine, said he had decided to release the next version of the software without PCEHR integration enabled.

“The $140.6 million for one year in itself offers little solace to us,” Mr Germaine said. “Without the release of the review and clear answers from the Minister and his department on the future vision and direction of the PCEHR, we are essentially in the same position as we have been for the past six to eight months.”

myPractice has completed a lot of the work required to become compliant with the system, at great cost, but Mr Germaine called a halt to further work last November following a reduction in activity by the Department of Health and NEHTA due to the election.

He said at the time that he would not be proceeding with the HI Service testing until the path for allied health was made clear. Following yesterday's budget, Mr Germaine said there was still no clarity on the system and what it will mean to allied health.

“The general consensus from allied health providers we have spoken to in the past six months is that they have no clear need for it,” he said.

“We've decided that we can't wait any longer before releasing our next version. We are going ahead and it will not include the PCEHR integration work we have done. It's there in the product, but it is not complete and will not be enabled.

“There's no point spending time and money on it until the case is made for it by the Minister.”

In a statement, Mr Dutton said the government would continue to consider the recommendations of the Royle review over the coming months “to understand the issues, their implications and the best ways to deliver on the intended outcomes”.

The review, which was conducted last November and December and a report handed to Mr Dutton just before Christmas, has not been released publicly and Mr Dutton's office refuses to answer questions on when it planned to do so.

The Department of Health has also refused to release the report and has denied Pulse+IT's FOI request, which we have appealed.

In his statement, Mr Dutton said implementation issues had “plagued the PCEHR from day one” and that he wanted to get it “back on track so that it provides real benefits to patients and health professionals alike”.

“Most clinicians are not using the system,” Mr Dutton said. “The government will need to make it effective, functional and easy for all Australians to use, and clinically relevant to health providers.”

He said the PCEHR review team had made some significant recommendations to improve the system, but he did not explain what they were.

“Careful planning and consultation are required to ensure that the government’s response to the recommendations and future investment in the eHealth system provide the best results possible for the Australian people,” he said.

Louise Schaper, CEO of the Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA), said the $140m in funding provided the opportunity for ongoing consultation to get the system right.

“We welcome the government's clear statement in the budget of their commitment to shared electronic health records for patients,” Dr Schaper said.

“The adoption of an innovation such as this is a long-term change management project and we are pleased the government is taking the time to make the right decision for patients and for healthcare providers. This is a good opportunity for ongoing consultation to make sure we get this right."

Dr Schaper also said HISA welcomed the government’s ongoing support for primary care, but said the new Primary Care Networks “must continue the good work done by Medicare Locals”.

“Primary care professionals need localised change and adoption support, like that provided by the Medicare Locals,” she said. “This will continue to be essential, not just for implementation, but most importantly for use.”

Posted in Australian eHealth

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