Industry ‘confused’ on e-health funding, says Ovum


Analyst house Ovum has questioned the Federal Government’s Budget commitment of $466.7 million to create a national health identifier system, saying industry reaction to the scheme is typified by “confusion” about its implementation and claimed results.

“The Government will provide $466.7 million over two years to establish the key components of the personally controlled electronic health record system for Australia,” the budget Health portfolio documents published last night state. “This secure online system will enable improved access to health care information, commencing in 2012 13.”

The documents said the project would deliver the capability to produce “nationally consistent patient health summaries” from existing and compliant information sources. “Patients who choose to participate will be able to securely access, and permit their healthcare providers to access, their health information,” the document stated.

However, Ovum public sector research director Steve Hodgkinson, in a note distributed today, said while the funding was “clearly” in the right direction, “industry reaction is typified by confusion as to what exactly the system will achieve and how it will operate in practice”.

“$466.7 million seems either too little or too much, depending on the scope of the initiative — too little to actually create a national e-health records system that is efficiently integrated into the hundreds of systems already operating within the sector,” he said.

“And too much to be prudently spent in such a short time frame — given the complexity of the situation, the legendary slow pace of government procurement and the Government’s track record of implementing complex operational projects ‘in a hurry’.”

Hodgkinson — a former deputy chief information officer for the whole of the Victorian Government, which is currently engaged in its own electronic records initiative — HealthSMART, said the key question on people’s minds about the initiative was: “How will the data in the system be populated?”.

If providers and patients voluntarily keyed their data into a portal, he said, there would be a danger that it would become another overhead for already stressed healthcare professionals.

“This may be reasonable if it is a transition step on the path to a more seamlessly integrated future state, but how can one be confident about this when the system is only funded for 2 years?” he said.

The analyst said providers in the healthcare sector would value a system that would ofer a better, faster, cheaper way forward than for each provider to ‘reinvent the wheel’ individually on patient health records — but they needed to be sure the Government’s initiative was “the right horse to back”.

“In this regard the Government’s decision to only underwrite funding for 2 years is a curious show of its commitment to what is an essential element of long term reform of the sector,” he said.
However, IT services giant CSC had a different view.

In a statement, CSC Australia’s director for Health Services Lisa Pettigrew said: “It is great to see the Government’s commitment to e-health as a fundamental part of our country’s health reform. The $466.7 million investment is very important, enabling funding for e-health as part of modernising Australia’s health system.”

“CSC has helped many other countries’ governments implement national and regional e-health programs and we can confirm that with an initial investment of $466.7 million as announced, Australia can make substantial progress,” Pettigrew added.

“Now the challenge is to deploy the investment into a tangible, realistic workplan that can deliver real outcomes for Australian patients and clinicians.”

Image credit: Vangelis Thomaidis, royalty free