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Minister defends government approach to e-health

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has used a speech on e-health reform to justify the government’s 2012-13 Budget spend and approach to the PCEHR.

Speaking at the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), the minister put last week’s $233.7 million funding boost for the national eHealth program in context, saying the government  had spent the last two years “building the foundations for the national eHealth records system”.

Citing the example of the Northern Territory’s now well-established shared electronic health record, the minister sought to downplay expectations of immediate widespread adoption of the PCEHR from July 1 when the system goes live. “What [their] example shows us is that take up tends to be slow in the first couple of years,” she said.

Ms Plibersek also discussed the role of government looking into the future, saying the private and not-for-profit sectors need to become the drivers of innovation as the core e-health infrastructure is bedded down.

The minister told the audience “pressure on the public purse” from rising costs associated with an ageing population and growth in chronic conditions necessitates a more sustainable model of healthcare, of which e-health must be an integral part. “We estimate e-health will save the federal government $15 billion over 15 years.”

President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) Dr Steve Hambleton also presented to CEDA, saying most AMA members are enthused about “the shared electronic health record vision”, but have significant issues with the PCEHR as it is currently being implemented.

The biggest of these, he said, was the unrecognised burden on general practitioners in creating the shared health summary for a patient’s electronic health record. “As things stand, GPs are being asked to provide a new service for free.”