E-Health: Benefiting Australians

The Government’s e-health objectives are: first, to provide health professionals with the connectivity needed for swift access to information and financial transfers. Second, to ensure that patients can claim their rebate on line from their doctor’s surgery. Third, to ensure that private hospital patients can access information about rebates and particular “gap” payments for specific procedures and receive one consolidated bill. Fourth, and most important, to ensure that every significant health record is available in a digestible form to every patient and, with patient authorisation, to any treating health professional.

Ultimately, better use of IT is about saving lives not just more convenience for patients and the people treating them, important though that is. An integrated health record could prevent some of the estimated 3,500 avoidable deaths a year in hospitals due to inadequate record keeping and incomplete information. Online access could avoid repetitive radiology and pathology tests and save a significant part of the $3 billion a year spent on diagnostics. Electronic funds transfer from the Health Insurance Commission into people’s accounts could spare millions of patients the inconvenience of form-filling and trips to Medicare offices.

Thousands of Australians are today benefiting from e-health through Government initiatives such as a trial in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory where 7000 people have an electronic health record. If a person needed to visit a GP while away from home, the doctor could securely access his or her electronic record to help provide appropriate care.

In the Eastern Goldfields district of Western Australia, doctors have secure online communications with pathology and radiology services, hospitals and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The network lets GPs access essential patient information and test results. A GP in a remote practice can take a blood sample, send it to a city laboratory that afternoon, and see the pathology reports online the following morning. In Tasmania and South Australia, major public hospitals can notify a nominated GP electronically when a patient has been admitted or discharged.

Broadband is driving e-health capability. More than 3,000 health care practices and nearly 4,000 pharmacies throughout Australia are now connected to business-grade broadband, thanks to the Commonwealth Government’s Broadband for Health program. The widespread use of prescribing software by medical practitioners means that 75 per cent of all original prescriptions are now computer generated.

More and more, health providers and the public are turning to the Internet for health information. Since 2003, for example, three million Australians have used the Government’s HealthInsite portal, which gives access to health information from approved information partners. It covers such important topics as diabetes, cancer, mental health and asthma. At present, around 4,500 Australians access HealthInsite every day.

The National eHealth Transition Authority (NeHTA) is responsible for fast tracking e-health standards and developing the nationwide consistency that will allow clinical information to be shared by healthcare providers throughout Australia. In February this year, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) committed $130 million to fund NeHTA’s work for the Individual Health Identifier, HealthCare Provider Identifier, and Medical Terminologies initiatives, for the next three years.

In health IT, government’s best role is to make things possible rather than to make them happen. As minister, I will do everything I can to create a benign environment but it’s mostly up to the private market to develop the systems and the medical profession to use them if Australia’s health care is to remain second-to-none. Government can’t be the great provider but it should be the great facilitator, so the private sector can deliver e-health solutions.

The Hon. Mr Tony Abbott, Minister for Health & Ageing

Pulse IT welcomes contibutions from people and organisations who influence the direction and use of IT in health.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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