Australia e-health strategy parallels U.S. efforts

Australia National E-Health Transition Authority

SYDNEY, Australia – Australia faces many of the same policy, standards and infrastructure challenges as the United States in its three-year effort to develop a national electronic health record (EHR) infrastructure.

Dr. Ian Reinecke, who leads Australia’s effort, compares his role to that of Dr. David Brailer, national coordinator for Health Information Technology at the Health and Human Services Department.

Reinecke, chief executive officer of the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA), jointly funded by the federal, state and territorial governments, said his job is to serve as a catalyst to jump-start e-health in Australia, comparable to what Brailer has done in the United States.

“My role is a Brailer role,” Reinecke said in an interview here at the annual Electronic Health & EH Records Congress. But he added that he lacks the political clout behind Brailer and HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, who have the backing of President Bush to develop and deploy a nationwide EHR in a decade.

NEHTA also operates in a different climate than the National Health Service in England, which has a single program and agency – Connecting for Health – with a mission to provide 50 million NHS patients in England with e-health records accessible by 30,000 doctors.

Australia’s approach to development of a nationwide health IT system is more similar to the U.S. than the United Kingdom, Reinecke said. His goals over the next year closely match a blueprint laid out by Leavitt and Brailer earlier this month. This includes development of common EHR standards, specifications and databases of medical terminologies.

Like Leavitt and Brailer, Reinecke also intends to wield the purchasing power of the federal and state governments here to push standards in the marketplace. “Market driven coordinated purchasing” of EHR systems will help insure development of standard systems, he said.

But when it comes to standards, Reinecke said he has not yet decided whether to embrace the Health Level 7 (HL7) messaging standards that insure interchange of information between EHR systems from different vendors. He said he will evaluate the HL7 standard as well as the CEN Comité Européen de Normalisation / European Committee for Standardisation TC/251 health informatics standard based on modular, open systems.

Ocean Informatics, an Australian-based company, strongly backs CEN/TC 251 and an open-source EHR software called “openEHR” as an alternative to HL7. Australia’s federally-backed HealthConnect project tested the use of openEHR in Brisbane, Australia. Reinecke said he will continue to evaluate open-source EHR software and believes it has a role to play in Australia.

As countries worldwide develop and launch EHR projects, Reinecke said he believes governments can tap into “tremendous synergies” which will result from their projects.

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