National e-health system edges closer

The Federal Government has accelerated its national e-health journey with the introduction of key legislation into parliament this week.

The Healthcare Identifiers Bill 2010 proposes that unique healthcare identifiers be in operation within 10 years, spearheaded by Medicare. Each Australian will have a unique record held in a single national database that can be accessed by different health professionals.

The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) chief executive Peter Fleming said in a statement the bill would improve the safety of patient records.

“We believe the new system will be a vast improvement on the current system where paper records can be damaged or go missing and practitioners often spend large amounts of time locating, collecting, collating and analysing medical records from other providers,” he said.

“This can lead to huge duplication and added cost to the system and frequently results in unnecessary repetition of tests and procedures.”

Fleming added that privacy was paramount and the new system will contain built-in safeguards.

“The identifier allows the system to ascertain the identity of a patient and tag their various pieces of information but the information can only be brought together and read with patient consent. An identifier itself carries no medical information,’’ he said.

However, many industry experts are concerned that the government is not paying dues to privacy concerns or addressing governance issues.

More and Associates consultant, Dr David More, said in a blog post NEHTA has not provided enough information on record content and access and how health providers will be authenticated.

“The reason is pretty clear. Those involved do not have a clue what they are doing and more than that are not telling the public — in other than carefully spun press releases,” Moore said in a post on his e-health blog.

“How, in detail, will 600,000 health care providers be authenticated… what will be the workflow impact, how will fraud be prevented and what exactly will it cost? …Where is the quality of openness and appropriateness of public administration we should be seeing?”

Mater Hospital chief information officer, Malcolm Thatcher, recently told lt;igt;Computerworldlt;/igt; the government needs to introduce management of health identifiers, secure messaging, common terminologies, patient privacy and industry incentives.

“I am not confident, yet still have hope that the Federal Government understands the commitment necessary to successfully implement e-health in this country — a commitment of time, large amounts of money and resources that go well beyond a single term of government,” Thatcher said.

“I still have concerns however about the extent to which the Government and NEHTA have thought through the need for providing a user-held token for the storage of the individual (patient) health identifier to avoid incorrect retrieval of patient identifiers based on demographic data and the human error.”

In a statement, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said minor amendments will be made to the Privacy Act to ensure that action can be brought against any individual or company that misuses an individual’s healthcare identifier.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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