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Comprehensive e-health guide for clinicians updated

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A key guide to doctors with the mammoth task of transforming their surgery into an e-health practice equipped to use electronic health records has been upgraded.

The National e-Health Transition Authority has issued the E-health Clinicians User Guide as an update on its previously issued version.

It says the User Guide is intended primarily for general practices and private specialists’ practices, to help them “understand the national e-health system and related e-health features which have become available in recent updates to desktop software”.

The Guide will also help doctors work out what changes may be necessary in the practice so they can benefit from the use of e-health, and how to plan for and implement the changes.

It will assist practices to undertake the necessary once-off pre-implementation set-up steps and verify that the e-health features are operating correctly.

The Federal Government launched its Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system in July 2012 with the aim of delivering safer, more efficient and better quality health care.

Patients are able to register for an e-health record, which is intended to be a secure, electronic summary of their important health information. Under its current configuration, patients are able to control which information they want to be included in their e-health record.

But since the system went live, little more than one million people have registered for a PCEHR, and doctors too have been wary, with barely 11,000 shared health summaries having been uploaded by practitioners.

In November, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton was appointed by the Abbott Government to a three-member panel to review the system and advise on changes to improve its usefulness and encourage greater adoption by patients and the medical profession. The review reported to Health Minister Peter Dutton in December.

In its submission to the review, the AMA warned that the system risked being rejected outright by many doctors unless the emphasis on patient control was scaled backed and the integrity of information contained in the record was assured.

“We support people taking greater responsibility for their own health, and the PCEHR has the potential to assist with this,” AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb said. “But patient control should not mean that PCEHR cannot be relied upon as a trusted source of key clinical information.”

Professor Dobb said that less patient control would not compromise privacy because there were already strong safeguards in the enabling legislation to prevent third parties having access to electronic records without a valid reason, and there were heavy penalties for any breaches.

The AMA also recommended that the PCEHR be an opt-out rather than opt-in system, as this would ensure a high degree of consumer participation and encourage doctors to commit to using the system.

While the latest version of the eHealth Clinician’s User Guide for Medical Practitioners contains information on how to set up the current e-health features in medical practices, the Transition Authority said the Guide would continue to evolve as new features were incorporated.

Expected new features will include electronic referrals, discharge summaries and specialist letters, as well as electronic medication management, including the electronic transfer of prescriptions and e-diagnostic services.

The system also includes incentives for practices to take up the e-health software.

Debra Vermeer