The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) is hailing the success of pilot program set up to test the transfer of digital health images under its popular eVisa program.
And DIMIA says it has now identified a number of other markets — in countries where take-up of the eVisa program has been particularly strong — where it is likely to extend the e-health initiative over the next 12 months.
All permanent entrants to Australia and all but short stay tourists among temporary entrants must pass a medical check up addressing a complex matrix of health requirements. Being able to transfer x-rays and other digital health images electronically can potentially speed up this process significantly, but until recently the availability of digital radiography equipment and Internet access in target countries has been a limiting factor. Now DIMIA is optimistic that leveraging the expansion of digital and computer radiology using the DICOM standard will help Australia maintain a competitive edge in eVisa initiatives.
DIMIA’s Electronic Travel Authority System (ETA), introduced in 1996, allows people from low-risk markets needing a short-term visitor visa to apply for it through travel agencies. The process is fully electronic and no paper application form or documentation is required. Until recently, however, the program did not include a capacity for electronic health processing.
Director of e-Strategy Peter Richards says eVisa was set up to make Australia’s visa services more accessible to clients while delivering efficiency benefits to the Department.
“When we first set up eVisa, the health process was something that immediately we weren’t able to tackle from an electronic viewpoint, so we actually avoided the medical side and deliberately chose groups where we didn’t have to try and meld in health processing,” he says.
“From a technology point of view the system has delivered the high quality images to doctors who we have onshore who are checking these images and clearing them. For clients it has certainly resulted in a quicker turnaround of medical results.”
He says while DIMIA is still evaluating whether the program can meet another requirement of the pilot — to ensure greater integrity of the health process — initial results seem positive.
“We’re really in what I think will be a transition phase. We said that we would let the pilot run for six months and that period has just come up,” he says. “We’ve had somebody recently over in Singapore and part of the role was to talk to the different parties who’ve been involved in the pilot to get some direct feedback from them.”
Singapore was chosen for the pilot because the technology was already available there, and because it is an important Australian market for overseas students.
“We knew we already had a good uptake rate of the eVisa service through Singapore, so that was really why we started off with Singapore for the pilot,” Richards says.
“ . . . In terms of the Singapore pilot, we had over 1700 students from Singapore use the online health system from a period from December to the end of February, which is the major student peak period. That actually represented 90 percent of the students who applied over the Internet for their visas who used this pilot.”
During the first 12 months of implementation from August 2001, 22 000 people applied for their Australian visa using the eVisa system. DIMIA says more than 100,000 have now successfully used the system, and it expects the figure to grow to more than 150,000 in 2004/05. Take-up levels have now reached around 95 percent for Working Holiday visa applicants, and around 60 percent for eligible student visa applicants.
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