Sunday, 7 June 2009

Leaked details show modest costs for e-health

By Karen Dearne

NATIONWIDE electronic health infrastructure will cost a modest $1.5 billion over five years, or $2.6 billion over a 10-year rollout, according to leaked funding details.

Federal and state ministers have kept tight wraps on costings and timetables since agreeing last December to adopt the National E-Health Strategy, prepared by Deloitte.

The $1 billion to $2 billion range "represents a relatively modest investment" when compared with the total annual health spend of $90 billion, with $60 billion coming from all levels of government.

Deloitte found that "tangible benefits" from implementing the e-health strategy "are in the order of $5.7 billion in net present value terms over 10 years".

Annual savings from a fully integrated system "are estimated to be about $2.6 billion in 2008-09 dollar terms".

The leaking of financial information and costed work programs on David More's AushealthIT blogger website appears to reflect growing frustration with the lack of progress on e-health.

Last month, medical and consumer groups told the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission they were astonished it had failed to put information technologies at the heart of reform plans.

Dr More, a clinician and health IT expert, said he hoped today's federal budget would deliver a "substantial boost" for the health sector. "But I fear we may be disappointed," he said. "Really, $300 million per annum is small beer in terms of the whole health budget."

Dr More said the costs and benefits contained in the full Deloitte report had been available to all state and federal health bodies for more than six months, "and it is quite wrong in my view that the public does not get a chance to debate the merits" of the proposals.

The strategy identifies four key areas for investment, including foundational activities ($370 million over five years), e-health solutions ($630 million), change and adoption ($470 million), and governance ($30 million).

Big-ticket items include a national e-health solutions investment fund ($500 million over five years) and care provider incentives ($400 million).

In particular, Deloitte called for the present National E-Health Transition Authority to be disbanded, and a fresh e-health entity with a governing board and regulatory powers established.

To date, only a brief executive summary of the Deloitte report has been released, even though the strategy was endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers' Conference as "a practical framework".