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Software makers are yet to see full technical specifications for the planned healthcare identifier regime due to start on July 1 provided enabling legislation introduced by Health Minister Nicola Roxon last week is passed by parliament.

The Medical Software Industry Association says members are also yet to see a working demonstration of the system, developed by Medicare Australia in conjunction with the National E-Health Transition Authority.

Under the program, to be operated by Medicare, all patients, medical providers and healthcare organisations will be issued with an individual six-digit number.

Unique identifiers are an essential base for greater use of electronic communications across the health sector, and will be a platform for the future development of individual e-health records.

But MSIA president Geoffrey Sayer said software-makers were in the dark about changes they would need to make to their products, beyond knowing to allow for a number in forms and databases.

"No one in the vendor community has actually seen the e-health community model, and no one actually knows what's involved in its set-up, which I find slightly odd given vendors are supposed to be rolling it out," he said.

"We've asked for the technical details several times and we've tried to source the information from what's available in the public domain, but we still haven't got a clear document that shows us what is supposed to happen."

A NEHTA spokeswoman said yesterday a special vendor day would be held at its Model Health Community demonstration site at Medicare's Canberra headquarters on February 26.

NEHTA chief executive Peter Fleming conceded in an interview with The Australian last month that the healthcare identifier system was built without input from local industry, but said engagement with the private sector was now being addressed.

"Clearly that's on my agenda for this year," he said. "We're talking with software companies about the impacts (of integrating the UHI) on their systems and how they operate. Certainly we hope to have some quite significant implementations by the end of the year, subject to the legislation being passed."

Dr Sayer said it was not a trivial exercise for the MSIA's more than 90 members to make changes to a wide range of software used by GPs, specialists, hospitals and pathology and radiology services.

"Before you start making changes like this you need to do a lot of documentation and testing against various scenarios to ensure that all the normal health requirements are covered," he said. "The uncertainties are concerning so close to rollout -- generally, important initiatives need at least six months' lead time so that systems are fully ready for use."

Dr Sayer said the program's aim was to raise accuracy and ensure the correct information about the correct patient was going to the correct place, "so auditing and exceptions handling are key".

"It's all the what-ifs, and what you need to do if numbers are missing or don't match," he said. "There must be a set of rules in place to cover every possible permutation."

Meanwhile, background material on the Healthcare Identifiers Bill acknowledges healthcare providers and organisations may incur costs in complying with their new obligations.

"There may be some costs associated with upgrading of IT systems to ensure they incorporate appropriate minimum standards and security features to access the HI service," it says. "The other cost will be the time required for staff education, and standardised reference materials will be available for this purpose."

But financial compensation has been ruled out, due to the benefits of "improved business practices and more efficient communication".

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Karen Dearne

Quelle/Source: Australian IT, 16.02.2010

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