E-Health on the Agenda

January 17, 2011

The Australian Government’s E-health conference last week wrapped up two days of focus on the national development of e-health initiatives and Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records (PCEHRs).

There has been a strong government investment in e-health, ranging from $A466 million over two years to deliver better patient records, to Senator Conroy’s announcement at the conference of a $A4 million e-health trial in NSW. This investment is essential and welcomed by the ICT industry as the right way forward. However, a key requirement for the success of schemes such as the PCEHR will be consumer engagement. Basing the PCEHR initiative on an opt-in system is something that may ultimately hinder its success.

Many of those users who stand to benefit the most from a personally-controlled record may not understand the benefits on offer. To base the success of the system on the requirement for users to actively opt-in is a risk.

Australia must embrace the opportunities offered by a digital economy on a wide scale if we are to see the benefits. Any user should have the right to opt-out based on personal preferences or concerns, but without high levels of engagement the system will not deliver the potential benefits on offer.

A key value of ubiquitous broadband is critical mass — having whole communities connected and using the infrastructure. This in turn, drives momentum, innovation, and demand for smart applications.

Broadband services are not only about access, but participation. High participation rates must be the goal if we are to realise the productivity benefits. That means identifying barriers to participation and developing strategies to address them.

The value of high levels of broadband participation is well documented around the globe. We are already playing catch up with a number of our regional competitors when it comes to e-health. Now is not the time to introduce additional barriers to community engagement in the digital economy.

Speaking to the conference about the challenges of implementation, AIIA national chair Philip Cronin said that PCEHR offered benefits to Australians that could not be ignored: “We believe that a viable solution must be developed on an open standard to allow for competition and innovation. It will be essential for Australia to adopt appropriate international best practice and standards so if we are to keep costs down and deliver a truly effective solution. AIIA supports HL7 and HER as national and international standards,” he said.

*Ian Birks is CEO of the AIIA http://www.aiia.com.au

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Terry Roach, Principal, Capsicum Business Architects