The last bastion

The last bastion

The IT industry is clamouring to take advantage of the huge opportunities offered by digitising Australia’s ailing healthcare industry. But will the strategy work?

The health industry can only evolve once all parties contribute to a unified patient record - a way in which a patient's history can be transferred seamlessly from one healthcare provider to another.

"The biggest problem in healthcare is the ability to share information," King said. "IT infrastructure as it is doesn't support the free exchange of information between these groups. But for healthcare to evolve, the sharing of this information is vital.

"The challenge is to layer a common infrastructure across all of these healthcare providers to allow them to talk to each other."

Slow progress

State and Federal Governments are speaking the same language. The recent Federal Budget devoted several billion dollars to upgrading healthcare infrastructure - 10-15 per cent of which Australian Computer Society president, Kumar Parakala, expects to flow into ICT projects.

But to date, progress on implementing the vision behind the electronic "unified" health record has been painstakingly slow. The main intergovernmental body driving the push towards eHealth, the National eHealth Transition Authority (NEHTA), has done little more than agree on some definitions and standards. State-based initiatives, such as Victoria's $300 million HealthSmart initiative to replace ageing IT systems across its public hospitals, are also several years behind schedule.

"Nothing has been achieved," McCabe said. "Many projects have been going six or seven years and we've got very little out of it."

Gardiner said there were several barriers to overcome before the dream of a unified electronic patient record can be realised. The first is a lack of communications between industry stakeholders. The second is a lack of interoperability - the technical ability to exchange information between systems.

The third is a lack of agreed standards (outside of HL7), and the fourth, as mentioned, is a lack of funding.

Most of these issues are, in some small way, slowly being tackled.

"The funding issue is being addressed," Gardiner said. "It is a lot more visible now that we need to support ICT in healthcare."

NEHTA has at least made some commendable efforts to ratify a few standards and definitions, Glass said. Communication between stakeholders, she said, is being facilitated via CHIK's e-Health Directory and various networking events.

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