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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 3678


Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (17:42): I thank senators for their consideration of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 and the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011 and their contributions to the debate on these bills and the amendments. At present, consumer health records are scattered across a range of locations and clinics rather than being attached to the health consumer and easily available at the point of care. That means consumers need to retell their story each time they visit a different healthcare provider. This outdated approach can result in things like unnecessary retesting, delays and, unfortunately, medical errors. For example, we know that medication errors cause around 190,000 admissions to hospital each year, with eight per cent of those errors due to inadequate consumer information. The legislation in front of the chamber this afternoon will help to put an end to that.

The bills before the chamber today establish the essential IT and governance infrastructure that will allow consumers to set up their own personal electronic health records—computer based records that can be accessed anywhere where there is an internet connection. That means records can travel with a health consumer from clinic to clinic and doctor to doctor at the click of a button. Once this essential infrastructure is in place later this year, consumers will be able to opt in and begin registering for personal electronic health records and access a range of basic information on their own health care.

Just as you build a house, these bills help to lay the foundations for e-health today—strong foundations that will underpin the development of the sector as it expands into the future. This is about developing the foundations of the system carefully and systematically. We know this is a complex area of health reform. It is complex, and that is known by those sitting opposite. It is known that this desire for an electronic health record had part of its origin back in 2003, when the coalition embarked on implementing e-health reform and e-health records. The truth is that very little, if anything, was achieved in the period of government between 2003 and 2007. That is no reflection on the officers of the Department of Health and Ageing as seems to have been the case in some of the contributions we have heard today. The harsh language that we have heard from those opposite should, or could, be directed to the health minister of the former Howard government. It is a complex area of health reform.

A national e-health record system will continue to build over time as consumers and healthcare providers join the system. Since 2010 we have been working closely with consumers and healthcare providers to get this right, and will keep doing so. Establishing a national e-health record system is part of our government's e-health agenda, an agenda that builds on the work of GPs, hospitals and other health providers and that is integrating modern technology into health care. Already, 97 per cent of GPs have access to computers and 96 per cent have access to the internet in their consulting rooms. I congratulate GPs for supporting this technology to become part of their practice, with all the benefits of improved efficiency and accuracy that it provides.

Throughout the development of this infrastructure there has been extensive consultation with clinicians, consumers and the health IT industry. We are looking to the health sector and technology experts to innovate and implement. Individuals can choose whether or not to have an e-health record. If they choose to participate they will be able to set up their own privacy and access controls. As the records evolve they will have the capacity to contain health information such as conditions, medications, allergies and records of medical events created by healthcare providers. The records will also be able to include discharge summaries from hospitals, information from Medicare systems and some information entered by consumers. We know that consumers and healthcare providers need to have confidence in the e-health record system and the information it contains, so it is critical to implement a legislative framework that provides robust and transparent governance and appropriate protections for participation in and use of the system. The bills and the amendments that are being debated here today will do just that.

Key elements of the bills will establish the system operator and its advisory bodies, a registration regime for consumers, a privacy and security framework and associated penalty mechanisms and the circumstances in which information in the national e-health record system can be collected, used or disclosed by particular parties. The bill also provides for the legislation to be reviewed after it has been operating for two years.

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver these important reforms. These bills are part of the government's bold health reform agenda, reforms that will make it easier for consumers to receive the right care when and where they need it. I commend the bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.