Dutton kicks off e-health review



blog It’s well-known that new Health Minister Peter Dutton is no fan of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record scheme initiated by the previous Labor administration. And it’s no wonder why. The scheme has cost a boatload of cash, has suffered security problems and has signed up on a minimal number of users, most of which have contributed very little data to it. The scheme has flown a little under the radar, owing to the somewhat esoteric nature of e-health systems, but upon ascending to the post of Health Minister last week, Dutton has already turned his attention to it. The Australian newspaper reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“The Coalition will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the true status of the PCEHR implementation as outlined in its health policy released in the lead up to the election.”

In case you’ve forgotten what Dutton thinks about the project, this is what the Health Minister had to say in August while in Opposition:

Dutton claimed the e-health program has been shown to be more about politics than about policy and more about spin than about outcomes for patients. “Australian Doctor has reported that there are only 4,000 e-health records in existence. At a cost of $1 billion that works out at $250,000 per record,” said Dutton. “This latest development proves this government is incapable of delivering on e-health. It speaks volumes about Labor’s incompetence,” he added.

Dutton claimed that apart from the very low take-up rate, the system itself was “deeply flawed”. “The Government has been throwing good money after bad, spending money getting Medicare Locals to sign people up to a program that does not yet have basic clinical protocols in place, let alone support from clinicians,” Dutton’s media release said. “The Coalition continues to provide in-principle support for e-health, but shares the concern of many in the sector about Labor’s incompetence in managing the process,” said Dutton.

I have to say, I’m fully in support of the new Coalition Government reviewing this scheme. It’s ben far from clear since the PCEHR project was initiated whether the technology exists yet to do this thing right; those who work in e-health will very likely agree with me when I say that the IT systems of centralised health authorities such as hospitals, clinics and so on can be likened to a huge soup tureen full of extremely tangled spaghetti. It is extremely common for major e-health projects in Australia to fail, and the PCEHR is the e-health project of all e-health projects.

Then too, it’s unclear to what extent the National E-Health Transition Authority, which is overseeing the project, is capable of delivering it. NEHTA’s had its problems in the past, and with a cluster of senior staff existing recently, is likely to have more problems in the future. Let’s hope Dutton can get his hands dirty with this one and sort it out. Personally, I’d be having the project formally audited. It shows all the usual concerning signs.


  1. Hi Renai, you have senior staff “existing” above, surely they aren’t prone to going in and out of existence like some Dr Who scenario.

  2. While I’m happy to see a review, Labor got us much closer to a national solution that has taken a lot of background preparation (NHETA and standards for vendors who historically embraced proprietary solutions that killed interoperability, legislative changes in a privacy minefield, and real systems going live or currently live in different parts of the health sector).

    In contrast the Howard government (which established the now useful NHETA) wallowed in pilot projects and indecision etc for over 7 years.

    After stagnation and little progress in achieving vendor and health sector cooperation, Abbott as health minister announced what just about everyone saw as an impossible rollout schedule in 2005. Almost nothing required to facilitate a national system was in place at that stage. The next couple of years in eHealth in the lead up to the 2007 election were laughable for any realistic progress or plan to move forward.

    While the Coalition are right to review the project, Labor do have the bones of a national system and framework in place now. The Coalition never looked like getting close on their last go around.

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