U.S. trails Australia in health records

Health Connect Australia deployment strategy

While the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States still has not fleshed out its health information technology strategy, The Ministry of Health and Ageing in Australia today released a detailed strategy for deploying a nationwide electronic health records system over four years in partnership with the country's states and territories.

The ministry said that the federal government has committed $96.6 million to introduce its HealthConnect e-health records system nationwide. The first phase of the system's deployment is already under way in Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

The HealthConnect strategy delineates roles and missions, including standards development, procurement and network infrastructure.

The United States, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last month, has only started work on the first phase of its National Health IT (NHIT) strategy, which focuses on developing institutions to stabilize the market, create a better environment for investment and lower the risk of health IT procurement.

HHS plans to invest in clinical management tools and capabilities such as e-health records and health information exchanges in Phase II of NHIT, and to support transition to the market of robust tools to manage patients and populations in Phase III. But HHS has not established milestones for Phase I, GAO auditors said in the report.

In Australia, the HealthConnect plan calls for the federal government to manage procurement of national components of the project while states and territories buy state-based components.

The Australian federal government has established and jointly funded the National E-Health Transition Authority to develop e-health architectures and supply the HealthConnect infrastructure.

The strategy also calls for introducing HealthConnect on a staged, regional basis in states and territories. The HealthConnect system will be built around commercially available e-health records software, a method the United States also plans to use. Orion Systems International was selected to test and develop an e-health records system in New South Wales, which includes the city of Sydney.

"Australia has come to many of the same conclusions as Canada," said Dennis Giokas, chief technology officer at Canada Health Infoway, which announced the availability of open-source software to boost e-health records adoption today. "They're focusing on consistent standards to ensure interoperability."

Officials in Australia understand the importance of working with state and territorial governments, providers, industry and consumers, Giokas said. "These are all key steps in helping to make a national electronic health record system a reality," he said.


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