Sunday, May 13, 2012

Weekly Australian Health IT Links – 14th May, 2012.

Here are a few I have come across the last week or so.
Note: Each link is followed by a title and a few paragraphs. For the full article click on the link above title of the article. Note also that full access to some links may require site registration or subscription payment.

General Comment

Clearly the big news of the week was the recent Federal Budget. It seems overall that over the forward estimates e-Health (very broadly defined) are being cut back just a little.
Go here to see the overall picture. (E-Health is about 1/3 way down the page)
My sole remaining question is to wonder just what the $33.4M for the present financial year is to be spent on. Seems like a lot for about six further weeks. I guess we will find out in due course.

Transforming healthcare IT

May 7, 2012
Healthcare is the fastest growing segment of the Australian economy. Costs must be lowered and outcomes must be improved. Paper records are incomplete, inaccurate, inaccessible and isolated and growing silos, with loads of old computers.
Transferring patient records to electronic forms is the future of healthcare and is seen as a way to reduce out-of-control healthcare costs while improving patient care. Hospitals today in common with most other organisations depend on a wide range of documents for the day-to-day accomplishment of work. These documents take on a myriad of formats, both paper-based and computer-based.
As Bill Gates said in the Road Ahead “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will happen in the next 10”. He’s right but currently we are on the cusp of many things. Online collaborative services and content management systems today are essential.
Modern information technology offers unprecedented opportunities to improve healthcare for Australians promising better quality at a lower cost. Health systems must change dramatically to address many challenges over the next decade. Health IT solutions will improve the quality and efficiency of care but only if physicians and hospitals implement and operate them effectively – better enabling free and easy exchange of information among departments and organisations.

$1bn in health cuts go to other priorities

ALMOST $1 billion will be cut from health programs to fund new commitments and help drive the budget back into surplus, leaving some patients facing higher costs and even affecting some signature policies such as the GP Super Clinics.
Some health program cuts, such as for dental services or for e-health incentives, will be ploughed back into new initiatives in the same areas, such as the redirection of $183.9 million in tele-health incentives into a $233.7m commitment to continue developing standards for the electronic health record system due to launch on July 1.
But the budget papers have been peppered with numerous other cuts, ranging from less than $1m to more than $100m, and collectively worth nearly $700m, where the money has been reclaimed without being specifically earmarked for similar activities.
As well as the $370m saving created by winding back the medical expenses tax offset, $96.5m will be saved by again trimming the Extended Medicare Safety Net, which reimburses 80 per cent of a patient's out-of-pocket costs incurred outside hospital once their spending has reached a given threshold.

Budget cites privacy concerns in dumping anti-fraud measure involving Medicare and the PBS

THE federal government has dumped an anti-fraud measure that would see data matching between Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme due to privacy worries.
Budget 2012 papers reveal that the federal government has decided not to proceed with the system that was being designed to try and catch out fraudulent citing 'privacy implications'.
Dumping the data matching facility will free-up funding of $4.4 million given to the Department of Human Services in the 2009-2010 federal budget.  

E-Health, PCEHR, Nehta: Losers in Australia’s Budget

Posted on May 9, 2012
If E-health and PCEHR will save $11.5b by 2025, why is government underfunding it in this budget?
ZDNet, usually an accurate source of information, has allowed itself to be fooled by data in the budget papers relating to e-Health in Australia. The article claims that e-health gets a $233m boost. The budget papers do say that Government will provide $237.7 million over three years to implement the National e-Heath program. But some is capital and some is money already due but not yet delivered for this financial year. And it is not a boost.

Patient care sacrificed for ‘artificial surplus’, claims Opposition

10th May 2012
THE Opposition has joined general practice’s criticism of the federal budget, saying it risks sacrificing vital patient care for an “artificial surplus”.
Shadow parliamentary secretary for primary healthcare Dr Andrew Southcott accused Treasurer Wayne Swan of “ripping” $83.5 million from general practice’s role in cervical cancer screening, diabetes care and immunisation by effectively reducing the number of practices that receive incentive payments.
“The cuts to primary care are just another example that Wayne Swan and the Labor government are more worried about providing their artificial budget surplus than providing patient care,” Dr Southcott said.

Work to begin on pharmacy and pathology specs for PCEHR

Written by Kate McDonald on 10 May 2012.
The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) has issued a call for expressions of interest from community pharmacy software vendors to join a new panel to work on incorporating PCEHR specifications into their software.
The deadline for expressions is June 4, with a shortlist to be announced after July 2. The community pharmacy software panel is the third to be established, following the GP desktop software vendors panel and the aged care software vendors panel. Expressions of interest for the latter were published in December last year, although there is no final decision yet on which vendors have been chosen.

Gravy train on the move

  • by: Suse Dunlevy and Karen Dearne
  • From: The Australian
  • May 12, 2012 12:00AM
PHARMACEUTICAL companies have been forced to curb their extravagant entertainment of doctors, but e-health is emerging as the latest gravy train in the health sector and this time it's the taxpayer footing the bill.
A crackdown on telehealth incentives in this week's budget came after the government found some doctors had hooked up Skype cameras to their computers and conducted telehealth consultations with colleagues in the same practice so they could claim a $6000 telehealth payment.
New rules will now impose a minimum distance of 15km between practitioners before the incentive can be claimed and doctors will have to perform 10 consultations before they get the full payment.
Yet the biggest e-health gravy train is being run by the body in charge of setting up the new personally controlled e-health record, the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA).

Budget a boon for e-health

Government funding of $233.6 million for personally controlled electronic health records (PCEHRs), announced yesterday in the 2012 Australian federal Budget, will boost both the health and ICT sectors in Australia, according to the Australian Information Industry of Australia (AIIA).
The budget included $161.6 million to continue operation of the PCEHRs, with a further $4.6 million to be used to maintain safeguards for privacy-related aspects of PCEHRs.

Sticks and no carrots as govt pushes GPs on e-health records

9th May 2012
THE government will bar GPs who don’t participate in the personally controlled electronic health record system from receiving e-health PIP payments, while stripping money from the existing telehealth incentive program to fund it.
Last night’s budget announcements finally answered the oft-repeated question of how the National e-Health Transition Authority would continue to function and how the PCEHR would be rolled out once the current funding for both projects expired on 30 June.
The government will spend $233.7 million on e-health over the next two years, contributing $67.4 million to NEHTA and $161.6 million to operate the PCEHR and another $4.6 million on privacy and security safeguards for the system.

Qld rural doctors question federal budget

By Sam Burgess and Francis Tapim
Updated May 10, 2012 05:47:10
Country doctors says the federal budget has ignored the needs of medical professionals living in regional Queensland.
The Federal Government has committed $35 million towards improving 'e-health' in the state's regions.
However, the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president, Ewen McPhee, says e-health is no substitute for more doctors and nurses on the ground.

GPs to pay, says AMA

10 May, 2012
David Ramli
Australia’s peak medical body has slammed Labor for cutting millions of dollars from incentive programs, claiming this could push general practitioners to the wall.
In the budget the government said it was raising the bar for GPs wanting to get money from its practice incentive programs (PIPs), which are designed to encourage doctors to adopt new ways of treating patients.
The move is set to save taxpayers $83.5 million over four years as Labor guns for a budget surplus.

AMA lashes out at cut to incentives

Mark Metherell
May 10, 2012
Child immunisations could fall as a result of cuts in incentive payments to doctors, the Australian Medical Association has said in comments that have drawn the wrath of a patients' group.
Doctors should not need to get special payments to immunise children, Carol Bennett, the chief executive of the Consumer Health Forum says.
''It would be a sad reflection on doctors'' if they were not prepared to ensure the best interests of their patients without extra payment, she said. ''This is supposed to be core business,'' she said, for which doctors received the standard Medicare payment, plus up to $6 for notifying the national immunisation register.

Budget 2012: $467m prompts just one in ten

Just one in every ten Australians is expected to opt for a personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR) over the next two years, despite the Government’s hefty $467 million investment in the programme.
From July this year Australians will be able to sign up for a PCEHR, but according to figures contained in the 2012-13 Budget papers only 500,000 people are expected to opt into the system in the first year. By the end of the second year around 2 million people are expected to have signed up.
Even four years out fewer than 7 million people are expected to have opted into the system suggesting that health professionals will have to continue to run a dual system supporting patients with and without a PCEHR for years to come.

Health professionals pleased with budget

09 May, 2012 04:00 AM
HUNTER health experts are glowing with good news about what they say is real and new investment in the sector.
They have few complaints other than a cautious rider that the budget fine print will need to be checked closer in coming days.
Chief executive of Hunter Urban Medicare Local Mark Foster said he was surprised at the level of new investment.
Dr Foster said the most attractive item was the $200million in new funding for electronic health (e-health) records over two years.

Use e-health or lose incentives, GPs told

GENERAL practitioners will be required to participate in the electronic health records system due to launch on July 1 or lose an existing incentives package worth up to $50,000 a year per practice.
The move, which is part of a wider tightening of criteria for GP incentives that will save $83.5 million over four years, is accompanied by a staging or scaling back of other payments designed to encourage doctors to get involved in tele-health, which the government has spruiked as one of its signature reforms.
The tele-health measures will save $190m over five years by introducing a distance requirement for the first time, meaning the site where patients are having the consultation -- usually a GP surgery -- will have to be at least 15km away from the specialist whose advice is being sought.

Budget 2012: e-health gets $233m boost

By Josh Taylor, on May 8th, 2012
The government's national e-health program is set to get a $233.7 million dollar boost in this year's budget ahead of the 1 July launch of the service.
In 2010, $466.7 million of funding was allocated in 2010 for a period of two years to launch a personally-controlled e-health record system for all Australians from 1 July.
Funding for the program was scheduled to run out this year, however the program has been given a $233.7 million boost for the next two years in the 2012-2013 Federal Budget.

No more talking, we are ‘doing’ for rural health

8th May 2012
WHEN it comes to improving rural health services, it’s time for practical solutions.
The challenges are well known: shortages of health workers, older hospitals and health facilities and long distances to specialist centres, all have to be addressed so that rural Australians can get the health care they need, when and where they need it. 
We have to think smarter and work harder with an obvious starting point being how to increase the numbers of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in the bush. 
One of the ways that we are making it more attractive for doctors to work in rural Australia is through significant bonus payments for doctors who choose to work in the most remote locations and retention payments to encourage others to stay in these areas. 

UQ develops hi-tech tools to fight cancer

AN Australian team has used computational methods to gain insights into cancer biology that would not otherwise have been found.
The University of Queensland researchers are using computational systems biology to explore the networks of gene regulation.
Led by Mark Ragan from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, the team found using computers to untangle the intricacies of cancer biology could identify treatment targets that would not have otherwise been considered.

Students create life-saving digital stethoscope

A team of university students have created a potentially game changing medical device using one smartphone and the Cloud
A digital stethoscope, which uses a smartphone and the Cloud, could save thousands of children’s lives in developing countries.
The stethoscope has been created by four university students from Victoria for the Imagine Cup, which challenges students around the world to develop unique products using technology.
The creators of the digital stethoscope, Team StethoCloud, include Hon Weng Chong, Andrew Lin, Kim Ramchen and Masha Salehi, and they are hoping the product can be readily used in developing countries.
“The idea behind this is that due to the rapid proliferation of mobile phone technology in developing countries, such as India and Africa, and the mobile phone being a readily accessible, we can then harness the availability of the technology [to help reduce childhood mortality],” Weng Chong tells Computerworld Australia.

DoHA to get new financials software suite

Currently uses Excel spreadsheets to manage its $579 million annual budget and financial management requirements
The Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) is moving to address weaknesses in its ability to meet financial management requirements through the adoption of a budget management and forecasting software suite.
The new commercial off the shelf software suite will help redress procedural inefficiencies, usability deficiencies, and provide increased flexibility and integration with reporting tools. The software will also promote greater use of the budgeting tool and assist in alignment with the Australian National Audit Office better practice recommendations.
According to DoHA documents, the department currently relies on Microsoft Excel to manage departmental and administered budgets and its internal allocation, monitoring and reporting.

Holographic 3D video conferences now a reality

May 7, 2012 - 10:15AM
Skype and video iChat are great, but traditional video conferencing tools are so two-dimensional. Just imagine if you could talk to a friend or colleague in holographic 3D.
Well, you may soon be able to. Researchers at Queen's University in Canada have created a life-sized, 3D video conferencing pod that allows users to see the person they are talking to in 360-degree holographic-like clarity.
They call it the TeleHuman.
But before images of Princess Leia telling Obi-Wan Kenobi that he is her only hope start dancing in your head, know that the 3D holographic image only works if you have what looks like a giant cylindrical floor lamp made of acrylic that can display the life-sized 3D holographic image in your home or office.

Journey to the centre of the brain

May 10, 2012
Close study ... "if we are ever to understand the brain in full, we must know how every neuron inside is wired up."
Researchers have a goal so ambitious it is almost unthinkable - learning how all 85 billion neurons in the human brain are wired up, writes Ian Sample.
There is a macabre brilliance to the machine in Jeff Lichtman's laboratory at Harvard University that is worthy of a Wallace and Gromit film. In one end goes brain. Out the other comes sliced brain, courtesy of an automated arm that wields a diamond knife. The slivers of tissue drop one after another on to a conveyor belt that zips along with the merry whirr of a cine projector.
Lichtman's machine is an automated tape-collecting lathe ultramicrotome (Atlum). It produces long strips of sticky tape with brain slices attached, all ready to be photographed through a powerful electron microscope. When these pictures are combined into 3D images, they reveal the inner wiring of the organ, a tangled mass of nervous spaghetti. The research by Lichtman and his co-workers has a goal in mind that is so ambitious it is almost unthinkable.