The military’s long march to get its nascent eHealth system out of triage and into the hands of Australian Defence Force members and medical staff has managed to leap-frog similar civilian efforts.
The massive department said on Friday said the new ADF eHealth system has been “successfully rolled out in Defence health facilities in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia” with facilities across the rest of Australia to be up and running by “the end of 2014.”
It’s a feat likely to produce a concerned pang or two at the office of Health Minister Peter Dutton who is still contemplating the best way forward for the frequently troubled civilian eHealth counterpart, the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR).
Defence initially launched its eHealth foray in February 2011 as the ‘Joint eHealth Data and Information System’, or JeHDI for short. The Defence Force had the system initially slated to cost $55.7 million, but it ultimately came in well over double the initial planned price tag at $133 million.
Price tags and politics aside, the JeHDI project has set a comparatively cracking pace to its civilian equivalent at the National eHealth Transition Authority (NeHTA) – first overseen by now Prime Minister Tony Abbott – which has taken almost a decade to roll out and outlived two changes of government under four Prime Ministers.
Assistant Minister for Defence, Stuart Robert, said Defence’s eHealth System will now support “all primary health care services to ADF members and establishes Defence as the first organisation in Australia to introduce a national eHealth record management system.”
Defence’s need for a functional and accurate eHealth system is a pressing one, with thousands of troops on deployment in active combat zones like Afghanistan and Iraq over recent years highlighting the urgency of being able to obtain accurate information on personnel.
Now, as soldiers and other personnel return home, there is a growing need for Defence to be able to share electronic health information in a usable format, not just within Defence but also with civilian health and care professionals.
“While the new [eHealth] system will certainly reduce red tape, it will also improve the availability of accurate, up-to-date health data to defence members’ treating clinicians and their health care providers,” Mr Robert said.
“Importantly, it will also allow health information to be easily and accurately passed to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs as well as to civilian health providers.”
The activation of the new system is a conspicuous win for Defence on the healthcare front, where the government, top brass and doctors have been at loggerheads over how a $1.3 billion outsourcing contract with Medibank Health Solutions is being run.
Last year the Australian Medical Association put a broadside into Defence and MHS over the outsourcing deals so called ‘preferred provider’ model, adequacy of access by Defence personnel to specialist services and its fees schedule.
Although both MHS and Defence strongly rejected the AMA’s claims soon after they were made, the MHS contract again came under scrutiny after MHS’ optical subcontractor Luxottica had its $33.5 million contract terminated after it was discovered details of Defence personnel had been offshored despite data protection rules.
On the civilian front, in former AMA president Steve Hambleton, a vocal critic of the MHS outsourcing deal at Defence was appointed to replace David Gonski as the chair of NeHTA.
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