by Lisa Banks

E-health key to national health reform

May 11, 2010
GovernmentGovernment ITHealthcare Industry

IT and healthcare professionals have called for more funding for e-health on the eve of the Federal Budget.

E-health has been the subject of much debate across the healthcare sector. The head of surgery at the University of Sydney, Professor Mohamed Khadra, has witnessed the frustrations of the current health system firsthand. He desribes himself as “a rare blend of doctor” who couples experience in the healthcare industry with a graduate computer degree from Deakin University and a degree in education.

Khadra first realised the lack of technology in the health care industry was an issue back in 1998.

“I stepped off the plane to start [work] in a clinical school and it was immediately apparent that access to healthcare in rural Australia required e-health solutions to be forthcoming,” he said.

“It’s hugely disappointing that 10 years later, it’s still being talked about and nothing is being done.

“It’s just crazy that we don’t have an investment in [e-health] that’s substantial”, he said.

Khadra is not alone in his criticism of a lack of reform to the Australian healthcare industry. John Backhouse has worked on the UK’s National Healthcare Service (NHS) for more than a decade and was recently selected as program director for Information Builders. Backhouse told CIO that the Rudd government needs to implement serious change and take leadership in order for the reforms to be successful.

“There is a lack of clarity and a lack of thought about who is going to regulate,” he said. “It’s OK to put KPIs down and reports in, but who’s going to actually manage the management and manage the services?

“Reform has been announced, but no key details have been released”, he added.

When it comes to software solutions that could drive the future of e-health, Khadra and Backhouse have differing opinions. Professor Khadra thinks that open source may be the way forward for the healthcare system and that large amounts of money could be saved during the process.

“There’s an enormous amount of rip-off in IT,” he said.

“I’ve recently been made aware of a hospital spending a vast amount of money on a piece of software. The software cost the NSW government around $40 million dollars, and it has not helped in any shape or form over what we used to have. If anything it’s made it worse”, he said.

Backhouse said that at present, technology is not the issue that the healthcare industry should be focusing on.

“Open source may be free but where do you get the expertise to implement it?

“The best software in the world won’t enable the reform to occur. What enables it to occur is the partnership between industry and government, which is grounded in the understanding of what needs to be done,” he said.

Backhouse thinks that more planning is required around e-health solutions, however he remains positive about its future and believes that the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHNRC) will be able to have its e-health policy framework generated by the proposed deadline of 2012 if it takes a bottom-up approach.

“I can’t see any reason why they can’t do it in two years… If you go top-down it will take much longer than two years”, he said.

Backhouse advised CIOs in the healthcare industry to ensure that they have data that they can rely on, to avoid approaching healthcare from the top-down and to ensure that data is released in a timely manner. But he admitted it would not be easy.

“Getting that information out in a timely manner to the consumer is a real challenge”, he said.