Australian e-health progress stalled by debate

Australian e-health progress stalled by debate

Intellectualised debate is stalling progress towards a national electronic health records system, according to the MD of database specialist Intersystems Australia.

Instead of debating privacy concerns, said Denis Tebbutt, stakeholders needed to roll up their sleeves and get moving on the HealthConnect project, a joint initiative between the federal and state governments.

"The technology needed is mature enough to be fully deployed, but like all major projects, [some of the] stakeholders are spending more time writing research papers into why it will not happen as opposed to making it work," Tebbutt said.

On a national tour demonstrating a working model for proposed electronic health records to state and federal government departments, Tebbutt said privacy concerns were being used as an excuse.

He said that based on his experience at Intersystems, which is a well-established health provider in the US, HealthConnect was being reduced to an intellectual discussion.

"The challenge is not to attempt to effect repudiation, but create the benefit for individual consumers and entities involved -- and then engage the privacy commission to say how we [as vendors] deal with the problem. At the end of the day, private information is freely available one-on-one [such as through a consultation] but the minute you make that information available electronically people get concerned," he said.

"We [vendors, stakeholders] need to stop thinking about developing the technology per-se and get engaged with partners and begin development."

National e-health implementation director Dr Brian Richards said privacy was a key policy issue for the success of HealthConnect, adding that the federal government was now in the implementation phase of the project after four years of research and development.

And yes, Richards said, the sleeves are rolled up.

"We are working closely with the office of the privacy commissioner because adequate protection of private information is fundamental to the ongoing success of HealthConnect," Richards said. "It is good practice to have privacy impact statements of IT systems being put in place as we clearly expect any IT system within HealthConnect's strategic framework to comply with privacy law.

Richards said the first priority for the Commonwealth was to get the HealthConnect system running in Tasmania, the Northern Territory and South Australia.

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