How will Australia’s e-health record work?


Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon yesterday provided further details on how the Federal Government’s electronic health record project will work in practice, although details of exactly how budget funds will be spent on the project remain scarce.

Roxon told journalists at a press conference in Sydney yesterday (see video above) that the project would see Australians access their electronic health record online through a system run by Medicare.
“The easiest way to think of it is how you access your bank details online,” she said.

“You can access your information, because it is your information, but whether you give somebody else permission to access it, is why there is such a difficult design task ahead of us to be confident that patient records will be secure, and only accessed by those people who are appropriately given permission to do so.”

It will be “at least two years” before patients will be able to use the system to access their information, the minister said.

Last week, Federal Parliament approved the passage of legislation to create the national electronic health record scheme. The legislation will facilitate the creation of electronic health identifiers that will allow Australians to create personally controlled e-health records. The project was funded to the tune of $466.7 million in this year’s Federal budget.

Roxon said key thing for Australians to understand was that their records would be controlled by individuals and not the government.

“So that means that we as a government are not going to put conditions which say you can’t get your medicare benefit unless you use your patient-controlled electronic health record (EHR),” she said. “A patient will decide whether or not they want their specialist to see the records of their doctor, or whether they want a new doctor to see the records of the previous doctor.”

Nevertheless, the system will be structured so that every healthcare provider has a number in its database — and “every Australian”.

Roxon was not able to provide many details about how the $466.7 million in budget funds will be spent, apart from to note that Australia’s peak e-health body, the National E-Health Transition Authority, has produced the business case for the funding, and there is an “enormous amount of standards work to be done” as well as a “huge amount” of design work.

“It’s going to be followed with great interest in the technology community, and we do have some further details that will be released in the coming months,” she said.

At a press conference shared with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, the minister joked that some in the room of journalists might be more technologically savvy when it came to the details. “Remind me not to do an event with Mr Conroy again,” she laughed.