The E-Health scheme went live in July this last year. Since then, we’ve learned its strengths as well as becoming poignantly aware of some of its foibles. As recently as two weeks ago, the eHealth network was down for nine hours during what the software companies are trying to pass of as “routine testing.” The installation of the system was meant to streamline the legal side of medical processes, but to date, it has been a tangle of IT systems and failed launches. Despite difficulties with the launch, the entire month of July was met with enthusiasm for the new system as 4,000 people signed up for eHealth services.
The system was originally bid to IBM for launch, but on June 26,2012, a mere number of days before expected launch, the Australian government terminated their contract with IBM and pieced together an interim solution. The last-moment change of plans has caused a great deal of upheaval in the daily processes of Australia’s medical community. Reporters tell stories of spokespeople for the new system seeming a bit on the defence while nearly 20,000 Australians are taken along for the ride in this unpredictable comedy of errors. The disparity in numbers shows up in an interview conducted by The Australian with a spokeswoman for the personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR) system. The woman divulged that the system is being accessed approximately 306 times per day. In light of the nearly 20,000 participants, 306 accesses per day seems frightfully minimal.
The promises of the system offer greater flexibility and personal control over individual medical records and decisions. From allowing people the freedom to compare health insuranceonline, and take control of their own medical records to the instant-gratification of being able to share medical records from a central electronic hub, the system’s promises sound almost too good to be true. The removal of a middle man leaves patients at the centre of their own medical history. Privacy protection is paramount as the system offers customers information about who, aside from themselves, has accessed their data, as well.
Regardless of the promises, some results have managed to trickle through the hoopla of such a vast undertaking and its complications. In a large study, findings published last week showed patients with an eHealth account were increasing the frequency of visits to doctors and hospitals. The data provides compelling evidence that the touch-of-a-button advances to medicine might increase the need for medical attention throughout Australia. If patients with an eHealth account are make more appointments on a regular basis, their health ought to improve, but so will government spending on resources such as Medicaid, not to mention the overall added drain on the medical community as a whole.
From GPs to hospitals and patients, the eHealth system promises change and adaptation will be necessary for the wave of the future, as will patience until the quirks get worked out of the system. It has already provided numerous points of data for researchers, thus proving its worth even in its very early stages. People are lining up to utilise the system as well as finding themselves in line to complain about it. With A$1 billion already invested into the system, there is no turning back, though speculators cannot determine when the PCEHR will be fully functional and live for use at all times. Doctors are adjusting their practice to incorporate new procedures for keeping information live, current and fresh. It just seems that right now is still too early to tell when the system will be fully operational and ready for full time use.
Photo Credit: Gunther Eysenbach (CC BY-SA 2.0)