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Govt mulls PCEHR overhaul

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The Federal Government is considering its response to a review of the controversial Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records system.

The three-member review panel, which was chaired by UnitingCare Health Group Director Richard Royle and included AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton, delivered its report to Health Minister Peter Dutton on 20 December.

Though details of the report and its recommendations have not been disclosed, it is believed to suggest wide-ranging changes to the PCEHR to improve its clinical usefulness and encourage its adoption by patients and doctors.

Mr Dutton said the review looked into significant concerns about the progress and implementation of the PCEHR, and its report “provides a comprehensive plan for the future of electronic health records in Australia”.

In its submission to the review, the AMA called for a fundamental change to the system to reduce patient control.

The AMA said the ability of patients to remove or restrict access to information in the PCEHR undermined its usefulness, because doctors could not be confident that it provided the comprehensive medical information needed to make an accurate diagnosis or properly assess the safety of proposed avenues of treatment.

AMA Vice President Professor Geoffrey Dobb said the capacity of patients to remove information from the record without trace was a fundamental flaw of the system.

“To encourage use of the PCEHR, GPs, community specialists and emergency department specialists must be confident that it contains accurate, up-to-date information,” Professor Dobb said. “Without a fundamental change to increase clinical confidence, the PCEHR does not serve the best interests of patients. As a result, it would be rejected by many doctors, and would fail.”

In a reversal of its previous position, the Consumer’s Health Forum has backed a switch in the system to automatically enrol people unless they choose to opt out.

The Forum’s spokesman Mark Metherell told the Courier Mail that “Australia should bite the bullet and make joining the national e-health records system automatic for everyone unless they actively choose to opt out”.

The organisation’s backflip has come amid continuing reluctance of most patients and doctors to sign up to the system.

Since it was launched in mid-2012, little more than one million people have registered to create an electronic health record, and only 1 per cent of records have had a clinical summary uploaded by a doctor.

Mr Dutton refused to set a timeline for the Government’s response to the review’s recommendations, saying it would make its views known “in due course”.

Adrian Rollins