AGPN calls for “e-health change and adoption” funding

The Australian General Practice Network (AGPN) has called for $31 million in funding over three years to assist general practices to meet the ever-growing IT demands being placed on these organisations.

As part of a broader submission to the Federal Budget, AGPN said e-health initiatives such as the E-Health Support Office Program (EHSOP) — which was initiated in 2005 and has been funded until June 2010 — had aided the network in increasing the uptake of e-health infrastructure across the health care sector.

However, the group said barriers such as the lack of a nationally consistent approach to e-health, variable levels of e-health literacy, and fragmented funding had resulted in an e-health landscape which, “while containing pockets of excellence, lacked consistency”.

The AGPN praised the Federal Government’s recently unveiled National E-Health Strategy as a remedy for these ills, however it claimed the success of the strategy would be reliant on GPs adopting e-health initiatives — an aim that the organisation recommended be targeted by expanding EHSOP to incorporate 60 e-health officers working at the GP level as “change agents”. Currently, e-health personnel are funded at the State Based Organisation and AGPN level, but individual divisions are currently required to fund any e-health initiatives or expertise via other funding channels if they wish to offer such services to their member practices.

Such a program would cost $31 million over three years, the AGPN estimated. While the wages of the 60 e-health officers would not consume the requested amount in its entirety, Dr Emil Djakic, AGPN Chair, acknowledged the prevailing skills shortages in the Health IT sector and highlighted the need for e-health officer salaries to be attractively positioned.

While the specific duties these staff are likely to perform are not yet available, the AGPN envisages the e-health officers will “encourage and support general practices and GPs to adopt best practice e-health tools and systems while encouraging participation in e-health initiatives such as Individual Electronic Health Records, Unique Health Identifiers and secure messaging via Public Key Infrastructure”.

Indicating a desire to engage with the software industry via peak bodies such as the Medical Software Industry Association, the AGPN rejected concerns that the funding of an expanded e-health officer program would lead to market interference, the organisation pointing out that the hands-on deployment and support of specific software solutions would fall outside the charter of the e-health officer program.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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