Australian governments’ plans to introduce an electronic health record for all patients by 2010 took another leap forward last week, with the signing of contracts for two more trial projects.
Both the Commonwealth and Queensland governments have committed funding for the new HealthConnect trials in Brisbane and North Queensland. The trials build on similar projects operating successfully since October 2002 in Tasmania and the Northern Territory, and another announced recently for New South Wales.
Commonwealth Health Minister Tony Abbott says results from these latest trials will feed into the first HealthConnect implementation projects and future versions of the HealthConnect architecture.
The project marks the second phase of a two-year endeavour to develop a National electronic health record (EHR) software solution based on an open systems approach, with DSTC completing the initial analysis and design phase in March 2003.
DSTC last week signed a $2.9 million joint contract with the Federal Department of Health and Ageing, in partnership with the General Practice Computing Group and Queensland Health, to develop a software solution for HealthConnect. One new trial in the southern suburbs of Brisbane involves patients with diabetes, who often need to visit a range of different health care providers to meet their health care needs. This trial will be an opportunity to test openEHR, as well as the value, technical feasibility and sustainability of an electronic health record shared between the public and private sectors.
The General Practice Computing Group is contributing $1 million in recognition of the pivotal role GPs will play in creating and using electronic health records.
A second HealthConnect trial project in North Queensland involves patients in the region who are to undergo elective surgery at Townsville Hospital. This project, which began in December 2003, is testing the value of the HealthConnect concept to the entire surgical care process from referral, admission and in-patient care, to discharge, outpatient and community-based care.
The HealthConnect project is designed to lead to development of a national health information network as the ultimate way to overcome the limitations of current paper-based systems of health records.
The project draws on the potential of electronic health records to improve the flow of information at the point of care and, in turn, improve the quality and safety of health service delivery across the care continuum.
HealthConnect would encourage health practitioners to move to electronic records, which would be collected, safely stored and exchanged within strict privacy safeguards. No practitioner or patient would be forced to join the system. Information collected would be assessable to all participating consumers, health care providers and health care organisations, subject to security, consent and privacy restrictions.
Announcing the project in September then Health Minister Senator Kay Patterson said being able to share information in this way would bring huge benefits to all Australians who join the system.
“Imagine a world where consumers can obtain authoritative information on illness prevention from their personal computers, where a consumer's geographical location has no bearing on the quality of health services received and, with their permission, where consumers' health records can be accessed instantly by health care providers,” Patterson said.
"DSTC's involvement in HealthConnect demonstrates the real-world value R&D can give back to Australia," says DSTC CEO Mark Gibson. "And because of the improved health care delivery it offers, we anticipate that it will be deployed throughout Australia's healthcare system in the not too distant near future."
"While there will be many open standards benefits for the Health IT community arising from these initiatives, there is also the potential for DSTC to commercialise some of the intellectual property we are developing. Countries such as the US and UK are now exploring the open standards approach to electronic health records making our Australian technology a prime candidate for vast export potential."
As well as offering major benefit to health consumers, many practitioners believe having that critical piece of infrastructure in place would give a major boost to health informatics in Australia.
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