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Tuesday, 27 April 2010 14:02

Microsoft plans to pilot e-health system in Australia

By

Software giant Microsoft hopes to pilot its Health Vault system in Australia within the next year to 18 months and is seeking partners to launch the service locally- and in turn hand the Government a get-out-of jail-free card as far as big bang spending on e-health systems is concerned.

Health Vault, which is a cloud based service, is being offered to patients by some clinics such as the Mayo, New York Presbyterian and Cleveland Clinic in the US. It allows patients to use the cloud to store and access their health related information - and also allow their medical providers access to the content. 

Although the end result is similar to that available from Google Health, which allows users to store their medical and health information in a cloud, Microsoft doesn't offer the service direct, instead sells the platform to health providers which can then use it to develop a service for clients.

Dr Bill Crounse, senior director of Microsoft Health was in Australia last week,  and suggested that this approach means that there is no need to have a big bang computer overhaul to deliver on e-health promises.  That's possibly just as well because although the Rudd Government is now championing a national health reform package - e-health doesn't seem to have much of a role.

Through NEHTA (National E-Health Transition Authority) Australia has been developing health identification numbers (HINs) which have in the past been cast as the foundation blocks for a national electronic health network that would link all patients, medical practitioners and healthcare providers and provide access to all medical records.

According to NEHTA the Health Identifiers Bill 20101 is scheduled to be considered by the Senate on 11 May. A survey by Access Economics has already found that investing $6.3 billion in an integrated electronic health records system could increase the net present value of GDP by as much as $13 billion over ten years and create 30,000 jobs.

But that modelling was conducted well before the Rudd Government unveiled its plans to overhaul the national health system. There are now mounting concerns that e-health will drift further on the back burner while broader hospital reform plans are driven through.

According to Crounse however, the lack of a national big bang e-health plan need not delay Australia's adoption of e-health initiatives.


Crounse said that NEHTA 'is planning a lot of the right things.' While health identifiers weren't a 'bad thing' and 'probably a good thing when the population and the government are comfortable with it,' they weren't essential to allow online access to health information.

Crounse said that a 'New model is emerging, where you start aggregating the data around the patient rather than connect everyone in the ecosystem. In the UK they have spent $US30 billion on that and it's not working.'  Crounse's views and the progress of the UK's National Programme for Health IT in the UK could seize by the Government as a get- out-of jail- free card as far as big bang investment in e-health is concerned.

Use of off the shelf systems could also be more palatable for hospitals and GPs according to Crounse. 'For far too long...the influence of legacy systems in health care meant that when you are in the hospital boardroom and the money is being doled out, and there is $2 million for an MRI machine or $2 million on IT, then as a physician you know where the money is better spent,' he said.

Rather than having entire national health networks overhaul their computer systems, he (not surprisingly) advocated the Microsoft approach, where individual clinics rolled out systems based on Health Vault, for their patients.

Crounse said further work was being done on Health Vault now so that clinical documentation stored in the system could be coded according to the Snomed taxonomy that has been developed for medication information. This would allow documents to be stored according to the HL7 standard for health records which would allow interoperability and easier information sharing.

Crounse said this development 'is becoming a product and we are about to pilot that here and in other parts of the world.'

 


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