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Hambleton appointed to pivotal e-health role

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Immediate-past AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has been appointed to a pivotal role in the development of the nation’s e-health system as Health Minister Peter Dutton considers a major overhaul of the troubled electronic health record scheme inherited from the previous Government.

The National E-Health Transition Authority has announced the appointment of Dr Hambleton as Chair of the organisation, replacing David Gonski, who occupied the position for six years.

In a statement announcing the appointment, NEHTA said Dr Hambleton brought to the role “clinical expertise and leadership… [which] will be vital in ensuring that e-health becomes widely adopted in clinical settings across Australia”. 

The former AMA President has a long-standing interest in e-health, and was a member of the three-person panel appointed by Mr Dutton to review the Labor Government’s Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system.

The PCEHR has been the subject of sharp criticism from the medical profession, which argued that the ability of patients to alter their health record fundamentally compromised its clinical usefulness, because doctors could rely on it to contain all medically relevant information.

Adoption of the scheme has been underwhelming. Since it was launched in mid-2012, little more than one million people have registered an interest in having a PCEHR record, and only a handful of medical practices have created records for their patients.

The review, the findings of which were released by the Government in May, has called for a major overhaul of the system, including a change in the name to My Health Record and making it an opt-out system.

Significantly, in light of Dr Hambleton’s appointment, the review also recommended that NEHTA be dissolved and replaced by an Australian Commission for Electronic Health, which would be advised by committees that included clinicians.

Changing the system to an opt-out arrangement is seen as a critical change that would make electronic health records more clinically useful, because knowing every patient had a record would encourage doctors to use the system.

The Federal Government has committed $140 million to continue the roll-out of the PCEHR while it considers the findings of the review, though it appears likely there will be a fundamental overhaul.

Mr Dutton said last month that the Government “fully supports the concept of a national e-health record system, but it needs to be effective, functional and easy for all Australians to use, while being clinically relevant to our doctors, nurses and other frontline health care providers”.

Adrian Rollins