Budget 2014: eHealth funding for Medicare Locals to end

Funding to Medicare Locals for their eHealth programs will end on June 30 and will not be extended under current arrangements.

The Medicare Local eHealth program was funded for two years under the Labor government to help general and allied health practices, community pharmacies and aged care facilities to get 'eHealth ready'.

This included registering for and using the HI Service and the PCEHR as well as secure messaging and electronic transmission of prescriptions. There were also benchmarks set for helping to sign up consumers to the PCEHR.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the two-year Medicare Local eHealth contracts were due to cease on June 30 this year and will not be extended.

“While there will be no further funding forthcoming from this current program other funds may become available throughout the year for primary health organisations, including MLs (while still in operation) to bid for,” the spokesperson said.

In April, funding for other programs managed by Medicare Locals was promised for one more year, including managing GP after-hours services, access to allied psychological services (ATAPS) and Close the Gap. However, eHealth was the only contract that was excluded.

There has been no clear direction on the eHealth program since then, with one Medicare Local telling Pulse+IT that it was working on the assumption that its contract for eHealth change and adoption work would finish on June 30 this year.

Jason Trethowan, CEO of Barwon Medicare Local, told Pulse+IT yesterday that funding for other programs had been confirmed but he had not been given word on eHealth.

“For us that was about $200,000 from memory so we don't know if we are getting that. [We know] that they announced the money [for the PCEHR] for an extra year but the question is what are they going to do with the money.”

The government announced in Tuesday's budget that it had allocated $140 million for the continued operation of the PCEHR for one more year, but there is no word on exactly how this money will be used. The government also announced that Medicare Locals will be abolished in June next year, to be replaced by Primary Health Networks (PHNs), following the recommendations of the review by John Horvath.

Apart from the name – Primary Health Networks rather than Primary Health Organisations – the government seems to have accepted Professor Horvath's recommendations in full. The department has released a frequently asked questions summary on its website with more detail on the transition to PHNs, which states that Medicare Locals will be eligible to bid to become a PHN.

The networks will be health service purchasers rather than health service providers, and GPs will lead clinical councils that will advise the PHNs. When Medicare Locals were established they were given a wider mandate than the former divisions of general practice, with an objective to also include nurses, community pharmacists, allied health professionals and aged care facilities in localised decision making.

In his review, Professor Horvath recommended that the new PHNs continue to provide support to assist general practice with the adoption of electronic health records.

Barwon ML's Mr Trethowan said that it would be possible under the new arrangements to continue to provide local support for eHealth.

“One way in which it could be done is through what I thought was a very good model and that was eHealth clusters,” he said. “That worked really well for us. We had about four other Medicare Locals and we were the lead cluster, and we were able to provide our skilled and experienced staff to pass on information and knowledge and share resources with other Medicare Locals.

“They were also able to help inform us. That was a really good two-way relationship and that worked exceptionally well. In fact, eHealth I think will prosper more so under a larger organisational structure than it does on a smaller scale. Some of the Medicare Locals have not had the luxury or the ability to recruit the right expertise, so therefore they were left with trying to learn from others. I think it's a positive.”

The Department of Health's FAQs say invitations to apply to form a PHN will be open to public and private organisations, and the selection process is expected to commence late this year.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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