National EMR emerges Down Under

January 28, 2003

Patients in Australia will soon be in a position to control what health information medical workers will be allowed to access. The patient choice is part of a plan to create a national electronic medical records system. Under the new system, called

Patients in Australia will soon be in a position to control what health information medical workers will be allowed to access. The patient choice is part of a plan to create a national electronic medical records system.

Under the new system, called HealthConnect, patients would be able to block personal details, such as sexually transmitted diseases and mental health issues.

The National Electronic Health Records Taskforce proposed the system in December. It is intended to improve care by allowing healthcare workers to access patients' medical records instantly on a computer. Access to records is especially important when patients are unconscious or unable to communicate.

HealthConnect would allow personal health information to be collected at the point of care in a standard electronic format, securely stored, and transmitted - but only with the patient's permission.

With consent, these event summaries would then be retrieveable any time they were needed and exchanged via a secure network with healthcare providers authorized by patients to access the information.

The proposed network would define the boundaries around who has access to what information and when. Only authorized users who need to know a particular part of a health record would be allowed access to that information.

"The information recorded in the HealthConnect trials includes clinical diagnoses, treatments, pathology test results, and prescribed medications," said Greg Lee, acting manager of the HealthConnect Program Office in the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing.

No decision has been made yet concerning inclusion of medical images.

"This decision will be influenced by benefits, telecommunications capacity, and storage requirements," Lee said.

Backers of the plan believe having more complete and up-to-date information available would mean that patients and their providers would be in a better position to make decisions together.

"The system would promote better coordination of care, reduce unnecessary duplication of services, and create a comprehensive lifetime record for the patient," Lee said.

HealthConnect would also provide an opportunity to increase privacy protection compared with existing paper-based systems.

Currently, two HealthConnect trials are under way - one in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory and one in the Clarence area of Tasmania.

The Northern Territory trial focuses on health issues associated with a mobile population in remote locations, while the Tasmanian trial focuses on improving care to adults with diabetes by streamlining information exchange between health professionals, Lee said.