National eHealth sign-ups reach 2.2m mark

As of midnight last night, 2,242,823 individuals had registered to be part of the national Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system.

At the moment, around 10,000 people per week are signing up for the system, which the government revealed earlier this year will be renamed myHealth Record.

The sign-up figures were revealed today at a Senate Estimates hearing by Paul Madden, a special advisor for strategic health systems and information management at the Department of Health.

Those sign-ups represent "natural growth" for the system while awaiting the outcomes of the government's review into the PCEHR, Madden said.

Although the review into the eHealth record was completed in late 2013, it wasn't released until May last year.

The outcomes of the review were announced last month as part of the Coalition government's second budget, Madden said.

"With the announcement of funding post-review, which gives us three years of operational funding, we can now commit to a communication, education and stakeholder management strategy, which we're working on at the moment," he told the hearing.

"We will be doing that in consultation with our key stakeholders."

The government set aside $485 million for the eHealth record system in the budget. The government's response to the review included renaming the PCEHR to myHealth Record and trialling an opt-out approach.

"Doctors have indicated they’re much more likely to use the system if all their patients have a record," health minister Sussan Ley said in her pre-budget announcement of the changes.

"The recommendations from the review were to increase participation in the system, where the health community had said, 'If we had the majority of our patients in the system, we would be more compelled and likely to take this on and use it,'" Madden said today.

Madden said budget funding included trialling an 'opt-out' approach in at least two different locations, "to actually understand the issues and make sure we've continued to maintain the consumer or individual's confidence in the system and understand the issues that might come with that."

The trial will cover two to five different areas and around a million people, Madden said. The department is working with the states and territories on potential sites.

"We need to find sites which are discernible, so that people who are in the sites in the trials know that they're in the trials and people outside [the sites] know that they're clearly not," he said.

"So we will be doing consultation on the location of the trials. We'll be trialling our communication processes and also working through education, communication and training for GPs and other healthcare providers in the trial sites, just to make sure ... that the healthcare providers are engaged with that system as well. That's why it's important to work with the states, so that we actually have a connection through the public hospital system."

"We want to get a spread that includes lots of people ... lots of GPs, specialists and allied [health professionals] and private and public hospitals to get the whole connected community of healthcare providers for that community involved," he said.

The terms of the trial have not been finalised yet.

"Where we've got to at the moment is to describe the criteria that would pick out what those trial areas might be, and we'll be looking to appoint an independent person to create the evaluation criteria for that, certainly well before the trials begin," Madden said.

The department late last month released a discussion paper that included details on the proposed trials.

"There will be a period of two months in which individuals in trial regions will be able to notify the System Operator that they do not want a PCEHR," the discussion paper stated.

"At the end of this period, PCEHRs will be created for everyone in the trial regions, except those who opted out (or were opted out by a representative) during the transition period and those who had previously been registered but who have cancelled their PCEHR.

"Any person who becomes eligible for a PCEHR after this two month period, such as newborns, will not automatically get a PCEHR and if they want a PCEHR they will need to apply to register under the opt-in process."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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