The introduction of a national eHealth record* systems appears to be progressing with delegates at the Australian Health Ministers' Conference agreeing to establishing a secure national system.
Medicines Australia's CEO Ian Chalmers says the system promises that patients will have access to more expedient and better informed medical treatment and patients and healthcare professionals will be the big winners.
Mr Chalmers says when healthcare professionals understand what treatments a patient has received and what medications have been previously prescribed and dispensed, they will be more able to quickly determine the most appropriate treatment option for that patient.
According to Mr Chalmers an eHealth record will help ensure that doctors and other health professionals prescribe the right medicine, to the right patient, at the right time and at the right dose, and represents a significant step in ensuring medicines are used correctly on order to avoid adverse outcomes through the misuse of prescription medicines.
Mr Chalmers says a national eHealth record would also shorten the time taken to complete clinical trials in Australia and would therefore improve Australia's attractiveness as a destination for global investment in clinical research.
But claims by the Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon that an Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI) would reduce avoidable deaths in the healthcare system has been questioned by privacy advocates, who suggest that poor records management is a problem in eHealth systems.
According to the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) there is evidence which suggests that poorly implemented eHealth systems can actually increase mortality rates caused by patient mismatching and the APF is calling for governance and management issues related to eHealth to be addressed before the introduction of unique ID numbers because they say poorly implemented eHealth systems can cost lives.
The APF is concerned that health authorities will not disclose what information will be attached to the IHI, nor describe the processes for accessing data connected to the number and there is also confusion about whether or not a biometric identifier such as fingerprints or facial recognition algorithms will be attached either to the number, or used to access data assigned to the ID number.
The government however insists that initial plans involve only a number - with no data attached to it - being put on Medicare cards and says decisions about what data would be attached to the number and how it would be accessed would be made later and only after extensive public consultation.
Apparently people will be given the option of using the IHI, and control over what data was attached to it.
*Electronic Health Record