Electronic health records spread

Australia National Health IT Summit

Development of electronic health record systems has emerged as a global challenge, which will require several billion dollars of government and private investment, according to Australian and Canadian healthcare information technology leaders speaking at an Australia healthcare IT conference this week.

Robert Wooding, first assistant secretary for information and communications in Australia's Department of Health and Ageing, said developing nationwide electronic health records for a population of 20 million will require an investment of "many billions of Australia dollars," though he declined to provide a specific estimate.

A cost of $10 billion "would not be an unreasonable sum" for creating such a system for Canada's 32 million people, said John Burns, senior vice-president for investment programs management at Canada's government-backed Health Infoway project.

Australia and Canada are taking an incremental approach, focused on starting systems in conjunction with provincial and state governments in Australia. Wooding said next year Australia will roll out systems in Tasmania and South Australia built around patient information summaries, not full clinical records.

Canada Health Infoway partners with provinces usually with 50/50 matching grants, with a focus on early development of patient registry systems and diagnostic imaging systems, backed by more than $1 billion (Canadian) in funding, Burns said. Canada's short-term goal is to have an electronic health records system covering 50 percent of the population by 2009.

Patient registry is essential for any system that will provide private and secure lifetime records of health history and care, Burns said. Canada Health Infoway hired Chicago-based Initiate Systems last May to provide patient registry software to provinces and territories under a master licensing agreement.

Australia's federal government has already funded its HealthConnect electronic records system with $23 million (Australian), while state governments, such as New South Wales, have put in $19.4 million Australian into its health records system since 2001.

Officials in Australia encourage the development of state and private systems that interconnect with the national system, with initial costs of the national system running more than $1 billion (Australian), Wooding said.

Electronic health records projects around the globe can benefit from cross-fertilization, which is one reason Burns from Canada was asked to speak at this week's Australian National Health Information Summit, Wooding said. The international sharing of ideas has already produced results


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