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E-health records face more delays

Senior Health Department officials have admitted patients may not be able to register for an electronic health record on 1 July and doctors will not be able to upload clinical information before at least September, in the latest setback for the Government’s troubled personally controlled electronic health records (PCEHR) scheme. The admission to a Senate estimates committee has come amid Government efforts to talk down expectations that electronic health records will be available from 1 July, which was the original start-up date for the program.

17 Jun 2012

Senior Health Department officials have admitted patients may not be able to register for an electronic health record on 1 July and doctors will not be able to upload clinical information before at least September, in the latest setback for the Government’s troubled personally controlled electronic health records (PCEHR) scheme.

The admission to a Senate estimates committee has come amid Government efforts to talk down expectations that electronic health records will be available from 1 July, which was the original start-up date for the program.

Department secretary Jane Halton told Senate’s Community Affairs Legislation Committee on 30 May that “1 July is the beginning, not the end point. We do not expect everyone to be registered on that date, and we did not expect all the capability to be available on that date”.

Earlier, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek told the AMA National Conference that “we’ve always said the rollout of the national e-health system would be in gradual, carefully managed phases”.

But department officials have admitted that patients may not even be able to register to have an electronic record on 1 July.

Health Department Deputy Secretary Rosemary Huxtable said that in its initial stages the focus of the scheme would be on consumer registration.

Ms Huxtable told the Senate committee that from 1 July consumers would be able to register for an electronic health record by contacting a Medicare call centre or going in person to a Medicare office, though it might be some time before they can register online.

“There will be an online registration function, which we are pushing very hard to have available from 1 July, but it may come some weeks after that,” she said.

One of the problems appears to be establishing systems to ensure the security of electronic health records, including verifying the identity of users.

The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) is pushing IBM, which won the contract to provide the National Authentication Service for Health, to complete its work in time for the promised 1 July roll-out of the scheme, according to a report in The Australian.  

IBM won a $23.6 million tender to build the authentication service in March last year, and there has been speculation the project is up to five months behind schedule.

But NEHTA official Andrew Howard said he had been assured by IBM that development was on track and the system, which will verify authorised users and support secure communications among medical providers, was moving into the “final assurances” stage, according to The Australian.

In addition to technical problems, the introduction of the personally controlled health records scheme – which is expected to have two million users signed up in its first two years - is also being dogged by administrative and legal issues.

Parliament is yet to pass legislation to set up the scheme and, with just two sitting weeks left before 1 July, the Government is rapidly running out of time to have the laws passed.

Ms Halton admitted to the Senate committee that the legislation was “the cornerstone of the rollout”.

But the departmental head said it was not “terminal” for the scheme if the legislation was not passed in time.

The Government is also trying to address concerns raised by the AMA regarding liability for incomplete or incorrect information in electronic records.

NEHTA official Chris Mitchell told the Senate committee said his organisation had been working closely with the AMA on guidelines for the appropriate use of electronic health records.

“Those guidelines are currently in draft form, and they are still being widely consulted on through the profession,” Dr Mitchell said.

AR

 


Published: 17 Jun 2012