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Doctors criticise national roll out of e-health records

Next year’s roll out of individual electronic health records could be stalled by an opt-in system, doctors have warned.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has hit back at critics of the "opt in" system for setting up individual electronic health records, saying people shouldn't have to make the switch before they are ready.

Every Australian has been assigned a 16-digit identification number, but they won't automatically get an e-health record when the system starts in mid-2012.

Instead, they'll have to choose to participate.

Doctors have said that's a mistake, saying an opt-out system would be better.

"The opt-in system has resulted in incredibly complex rules for patients to give their doctors access to their personally controlled electronic health record," Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said in a statement.

"We will have a system that doctors and other health practitioners are keen to embrace but won't be able to because their patients haven't yet given them access to their records," he said.

But Roxon said the health profession’s concerns aren't justified, and she expects a good take-up eventually.

"I don't think imposing it on someone actually improves the system," the minister told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

"You want the first, early adopters to be people who want to be in it and understand its value ... in terms of both health professionals and consumers.

"Letting it grow as people are interested in the system is a perfectly acceptable way to do it."

Roxon admits the vast majority of Australians won't sign up on July 1 next year but she argues that's a good thing because the system couldn't cope with an influx.

Rather, she's expecting growth to be "gradual".

People with chronic diseases are expected to get on board straight away.

That's because they have most to gain - such patients won't have to restate their extensive medical history every time they see a new health professional.

"I'm not worried about the opt-in system," Roxon.

"I don't think ... giving the patient some information and control is dangerous."

Everyone who opts to use the e-health system will have a summary record containing information such as current medications, allergies and major conditions.

It will probably be stored by the government with hospitals able to access it in emergencies.

More comprehensive records won't be stored centrally at all.

Instead, individual documents will be held by different healthcare providers or their professional bodies.

To protect privacy, searches will only be permitted by a patient using their own access code, or someone authorised to use it, such as a partner, carer or doctor.

The federal government on Monday released the final implementation plan detailing the rollout of electronic health records Australia-wide.

Aside from concerns over the opt-in nature of e-health, doctors are also worried that patients will be able to alter their health record without consulting their GP.

"Patients could entirely remove from their record clinical documents that they had previously considered worth sharing with healthcare providers," Hambleton said.

"This is a very dangerous precedent that could undermine all the potential benefits of an electronic health record."


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