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medical professionals ask for clarity on e-hea

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    Medical professionals ask for clarity on e-health Andrew Colley From: The Australian December 15, 2009 12:00AM


    A BROAD coalition of health professionals believes it made progress in its quest for $6.3 billion in federal funding at the government's massive broadband conference in Sydney last week.
    The Coalition for e-Health's hopes have been buoyed by strong indications it has support from Kevin Rudd, Health and Ageing Minister Nicola Roxon and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

    Michael Legg, president of the Health Informatics Society, which convenes the CeH, said the group had been asked to hang tight.

    Professor Legg said the group had been strongly encouraged by comments made by Department of Health and Ageing deputy secretary Jane Halton at the conference that indicated the department was behind the group.

    "That's the first time that I've really heard anybody at that level in the department declaring their position with respect to it, which means, I think, that that they do have strong political support," Professor Legg said.


    The group has been in limbo since June, when the federal government accepted a report issued by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission that found e-health was critical to improving Australian healthcare.

    The report convinced the government to recognise e-health as a critical component of its health reform policy.

    The Business Council of Australia issued a strategy paper last month that suggested Australia could cut $27.8bn from its national medical bill over eight years if $6.3bn were invested in e-health systems over five years.

    The Prime Minister was expected to provide feedback on the strategy after last week's meeting of the Council Of Australian Governments.

    CeH wrote to Mr Rudd urging him to move swiftly to accept the findings of the strategy paper.

    It said in the letter the government had not made its position clear on e-health and asked Mr Rudd to take a stronger leadership position to ensure stronger cohesion between state and federal health jurisdictions.

    "We ask you as Prime Minister to lead the way," the group wrote.

    "This is a nation-building exercise that requires clear vision and strong leadership. To date, your government, while supportive, has not articulated a clear position and commitment. Without this, all jurisdictions will struggle to move ahead . . . We also believe this is a great opportunity to chart a new course; to give the broader health community something to aspire to and work toward, and that this is an essential step towards providing a health system fit for the 21st century." But Professor Legg said Mr Rudd had declined to provide the feedback on the basis the issue was too complex.

    The government has isolated health as one of the five key policy areas to be entwined with its $4bn plan to build a super-fast national broadband network.

    Delivering his opening address to the Realising our Broadband Future conference on Thursday, Mr Rudd said the NBN went beyond communications policy.

    "In other words, our national broadband policy is not about communications policy," Mr Rudd said.

    "It is about health policy, education policy, transport policy and the whole way that governments meet the needs of our people."

    Labor has given e-health a prominent place in its health reform strategy, but the Prime Minister's positive mood did not carry over to discussion sessions on e-health later in the day.

    There, frustration was strong over an apparent lack of political leadership backing the vision.

    In one session Ms Halton faced strongly worded commentary from health professionals on a range of issues.

    Some bemoaned regulations that prevented them charging for health services supplied electronically.

    Others were concerned that the e-health agenda was too closely tied to the NBN and urged the government to take "the low-hanging fruit" by supporting health services that were possible with existing broadband connections.

    Privately, others expressed concerns that ongoing political conflict over medicine services between the federal government and states and territories was holding back e-health.

    However, Professor Legg took up one of the main barriers to e-health services -- the lack of unique healthcare identifiers linking individuals to healthcare records.

    As discussions were taking place at the conference on Thursday, the federal government released draft legislation to assign such identifiers to providers and patients.

    That was expected to overcome security and accuracy problems with medical records.

    Some questioned the timing of the legislation but Professor Legg said it was a logical progression from the Council of Australian Governments meeting.

    "The government was moving as fast as governments do," he said.
 
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