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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1631


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (13:04): I rise to voice my strong support for the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 and the cognate bill before the House. I especially thank the member for Hasluck for his wide-ranging contribution given his obvious expertise and experience in this area. I will say from the outset that, like him, I find it slightly bizarre that it has taken so long for the healthcare system to migrate to computer based records, although I was interested to hear of some of the initiatives in the northern part of Australia, across the Western Australian and Northern Territory regions.

Not far from where I live there are still hospitals and medical clinics that operate paper based files. Whilst I respect the great work that admin officers and clerical staff do in bringing order to the system, obviously as it is the time of the NBN it is also time for hospitals to make use of the digital revolution. We take for granted computerised systems in finance, transport and retail, but the health system as a whole has been very slow to move, although in a few parts of the health system there has been some innovation and initiative.

Clinicians tell us that one of the keys to better health care is sharing health records between clinicians. When patients move from one doctor to another, from one health service to another or from one hospital to another, it is difficult for medical professionals to know what has gone on before. It is difficult for a doctor to know what medications have previously been prescribed. Does the doctor have to reinvent the wheel? Obviously, this can lead to unnecessary or duplicate testing, delays and, sadly, in the worst cases, medical errors. I am advised that up to 17 per cent of tests are unnecessary duplication and up to 18 per cent of medical errors arise out of inadequate patient information. So, clearly, if you apply the common-sense test: it is a waste of money, and sadly it can be injurious for patients and people can die because of the medical errors that arise out of inadequate patient information.

By having access to a patient's medical history, healthcare professionals will be better equipped to provide appropriate care. La Trobe University's School of Public Health says medical records:

... should contain sufficient data to identify the patient or client, support the diagnosis or reason for the health care encounter, justify the treatment, and accurately document the results.

The university also says:

The medical record is vital to the care of the patient as it is a communication tool between all individuals involved in the patient's care, and provides a documented account of the episode to aid clinicians' memories.

If we can give caregivers immediate access to key medical information—such as a patients diagnoses, allergies, lab test results, and medications—we can improve the clinical decisions they make.

Of course, there are many benefits, including better records management and reporting capabilities, streamlined administration and better support for patients and doctors. So, one to keep the bean counters and accountants happy, but obviously under that bigger umbrella of saving lives and money—and, of course, no more nurses not being able to decipher a doctor's handwriting, if I can succumb to a stereotype. I say that as somebody who made my students endure my horrific blackboard writing for 11 years and also as the son of a nurse!

Most significantly, e-health records will ensure better quality of care. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition, when he was health minister, said in August 2005, 'Better use of IT is no panacea, but there's scarcely a problem in the health system it can't improve'—and he was right. Unfortunately, he never got around to turning those words into action, but he did recognise the problem and was no doubt taking steps to address it in that process of removing $1 billion from our healthcare system. By contrast, the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments embraced e-health as major part of our health reform agenda, bringing health care into the 21st century.

These bills establish a personally controlled electronic health record system. They authorise the Department of Health and Ageing to manage the system and authorise the collection, use and appropriate disclosure of information. They will enable consumers to have easy access to their healthcare information online and will enable them to share it with their authorised healthcare providers. Summary health information such as conditions,

medications, allergies and medical events created by healthcare providers will be included in the summary.

The online health records system is not some Orwellian attack on individual liberties. I know people are writing emails to my office about this as I speak. But they need to calm down. This is not about a person's right to privacy, it is not some Orwellian attack; instead, it is about delivering better patient care for all Australians. Consumers and healthcare providers will be able to choose whether or not to participate in the system. If they want to still have the coloured manila folders, that is fine—that is their choice. But consumers will also be able to personally set their privacy settings. I imagine that one of the reasons it has taken so long for health records to go digital is the need for that absolute privacy. These bills contain serious measures to ensure patient confidentiality is protected and maintained. The Australian Information Commissioner is empowered under the Privacy Act to investigate breaches of privacy. The bills also introduce civil penalties for breaches of privacy and criminal penalties for hacking. They also provide robust protection to ensure consumers and healthcare providers can have confidence using the system.

Obviously, this system requires sophisticated IT infrastructure to ensure a safe, secure and functional health records system. I understand this infrastructure is being developed and will be ready to go online from 1 July this year. Consumers and healthcare providers will be able to register for online health records from then. Online health records are long overdue, so I welcome the introduction of the personally controlled electronic health record system. And I thank the Minister for Health and her immediate predecessor for having the courage to take this vital reform out of the 'too hard basket'. As we realise the benefits to patient care in the years to come, and the savings, we will all wonder why this did not happen much sooner. I commend the bills to the House.