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Tuesday, 28 February 1995
Page: 1108

(Question No. 1873)


Senator Calvert asked the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health, upon notice, on 23 November 1994:

  (1) What is the Health Communication Network.

  (2) Why was it necessary for the Commonwealth of Australia to purchase this particular business name at a cost of $60 000.

  (3) What were the legal costs associated with the purchase of this business name.

  (4) What consultancy services were provided in the formation of the Health Communication Network at a cost of $20 338 by Clarke and Company, Melbourne.

  (5) What is the purpose of the Health Communication Network.

  (6) How many staff are employed in the Health Communication Network.

  (7) How long has the Commonwealth of Australia been the owner of the Health Communication Network.

  (8) What was the Health Communication Network before being purchased by the Commonwealth of Australia.

  (9) What other costs have been incurred with the purchase of this particular business name.


Senator Crowley —The Minister for Human Services and Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

  (1) The Health Communication Network (HCN) is an initiative of Health Ministers, both State and Commonwealth. The HCN sets out to improve the flow of health information in a safe, secure and effective manner.

  The HCN was first discussed in 1991 at a Health and Telecommunications Industry workshop sponsored by Health Ministers.

  Since 1992, the HCN project has undertaken consultations, studies and demonstration projects to provide tangible and supportable evidence of the uses and benefits of the HCN.

  In July 1993 Australian Health Ministers agreed to the establishment of the HCN as a company by 1994 with an independent board. A company was considered the most appropriate vehicle because the health sector has clearly indicated it does not feel comfortable with Government, neither Commonwealth nor State, dealing with its information and secondly, the Health Communication Network is to be set up on commercial grounds.

  The development and implementation of the Health Communication Network has to date been funded by the Commonwealth Government ($1.8m in 92-93, $2.0m in 1993-94 and an estimated $6.6m in 1994-96). The Health Communication Network company will repay the costs associated with its infrastructure development and operational subsidy—approximately $7.0m.

  The HCN will be established as a company in January 1995, with a board reflecting expertise in health, business and communications.

  Initial services and the networking capability of the HCN are currently being built with the commencement of services in early 1995.

  These services include:

  Poisons Information Centres (PICs): access to any PIC around Australia via a single national number. This will enable faster and easier access to poisons information.

  Pathology results reporting service: to enable the timely and safe delivery of pathology reports to the medical community.

  Hospitals and community services: a communications service linking hospitals with general practitioners and community nurses to provide access to information such as discharge summaries, pathology results, radiology services or specific disease protocol management.

  Organisational support: an E-mail based service to enable health professionals to exchange or access information. It may include a range of functions from simple bulletin board access, individual forums for specialist groups, facilities for storing and exchanging documents, and access to information services such as the Internet.

  When it came time to commence the action of setting up the company it was found that a company called `Health Communications Network' (with an `s') was already operating and had been for a number of years.

  The Commonwealth was advised that it could infringe S52 of the Trade Practices Act if it were to register `Health Communication Network' knowing there was a company with a similar name, geographic location and market segment.

  The Attorney-General's Department advised that the Department of Human Services and Health should take action to remove the similarity and compensate the existing company for it to change its name and then reserve the name.

  The purchase was then necessary for the Commonwealth to secure the name of Health Communication Network as it is already widely accepted by the health sector and to change the name and re-establish under another name would have been costly and very confusing for the users of the HCN.

  The amount paid to Health Communications Network for them to forfeit their name was based on the stock they had on hand and a component of goodwill for readvertising, logos etc.

  (3) The legal costs associated with the purchase of this business name were $7,002.50 to the Attorney-General's Department for the Commonwealth's legal fees and $1,750.00 for the Health Communications Network legal fees.

  (4) Clarke and Company were contracted to develop and draft a business plan for the Health Communication Network company.

  The business plan incorporates a marketing strategy, operations strategy, human resources strategy, finance strategy, implementation strategy, a proposed organisation structure, initial services and financial projections.

  The business plan is still in draft form as it will be taken up and completed by the company on its formation.

  (5) The purpose of the Health Communication Network is to provide communication services which will assist in improving quality of care and productivity in the health sector.

  The health sector is very dependent on information. Extensive fieldwork undertaken in the development phase clearly identified the areas where health care workers are dissatisfied with the lack of timely information, and where patients suffer from delays in treatment, lack of co-ordination, or duplicated tests. These are the areas that the HCN will be concentrating on initially.

  The Health Communication Network combines expertise in health and telecommunications to tailor services appropriate for the health sector. The HCN approach is to work closely with health care workers to identify the issues and design services using the appropriate technology.

  The HCN has developed an Ethical and Policy Framework in conjunction with privacy, health and consumer experts. The principles that govern the communication of health information, as well as codes of practice to give effect to these principles, will be encapsulated in the company's Memorandum and Articles of Association. Codes of practice, privacy safeguards, and the formation of a Privacy Advisory Panel are also featured in the Framework.

  (6) The Health Communication Network is currently operating as a section within the Department of Human Services and Health pending the set up of the company and it has eight staff members, with five permanent Commonwealth officers and three temporary staff members.

  (7) The Commonwealth has developed the Health Communication Network. It has had a long period of development and was first discussed in 1991 at a Health and Telecommunications Industry workshop sponsored by Health Ministers as described in (1).

  (8) The Health Communication Network was developed by the Commonwealth. See answer to (1).

  (9) There have been no further costs except those already mentioned ($60,000 purchase price and $8,752.50 legal fees).