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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1625

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (12:39): What a dreadful contribution we have just heard—everything was doom and gloom and everybody is opposed to it, but they support the bill. I would have thought that everybody and every professional health worker in this country would be behind this legislation helping us to get it started because it will be in the interests of patients and the general welfare of the health system of Australia to have this system up and running. This bill gives us the opportunity to do that. So, I was very disappointed in that contribution from somebody from the health sector, even though those opposite are going to support the bill.

The object of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 is to enable the establishment and operation of a voluntary national system for the provision of access to health information relating to consumers of health care. It will, firstly, help to overcome the fragmentation of health information, and we know what that is like. In hospitals in Tasmania we still see orderlies rolling files on big carts around the aisles. It is 1950s stuff, but it is still going on. The fact that we have not been able to upgrade to an electronic system is a real issue and people ought to be looking at why that has not occurred.

Secondly, it will improve the availability and quality of health information. When something is electronic much more information is available. How much could that help health care in this country? Thirdly, it will reduce the occurrence of adverse medical events and the duplication of treatment. When someone goes to a doctor and has tests but then a few days later sees another doctor elsewhere, the tests may have to be done again because no record can be transferred from the first treating doctor. These things will make a lot of difference to duplication and cost in the healthcare system. There are many such great things in this bill and they will help us go forward.

The personally controlled electronic health record system—the PCEHR system—will enable better access to important health information currently held in dispersed records around the country. It will mean that patients will no longer need to unnecessarily repeat their medical history every time they see a doctor or other health professional.

Australia's economic growth, productivity and long-term prosperity are underpinned by the health of its population. A healthy population is influenced by strong social and physical infrastructure and an accessible, safe, high-quality health system.

Recent health reform reports recognise that the health system is facing challenges, which are driving increased healthcare service demands and costs. The need to reform the healthcare system has been recognised by all governments. The Australian government is therefore implementing a range of health reforms that are underpinned by improvements to the operation of e-health in Australia. Some of the building blocks for e-health were established following health ministers endorsing the National E-Health Strategy in 2008.

One of the key building blocks that has been established is the Healthcare Identifiers Service—HI Service—which commenced operation on 1 July 2010 and allocates unique identifiers to healthcare consumers, healthcare providers and healthcare provider organisations. The use of healthcare identifiers to more accurately identify and match healthcare information is an integral part of the proposed PCEHR system.

The then Minister for Health and Ageing, the Hon. Nicola Roxon, released a paper early last year to promote discussion in the community to see what sort of reception such a scheme might have. It covered who was likely to participate: individuals, healthcare provider organisations, information service providers, the operator of the scheme, repository providers, trusted data sources and portal providers. The paper also covered who had access. Access is particularly geared to individuals, who will be able to access their own health information and to have choices about how access by healthcare providers can be managed. It also included privacy type legislation so that any information that is provided about patients is carefully secured and that no unauthorised use of it is made. This includes security of the information. Finally, the paper covered governance options in a framework that included strategic oversight, management and operation and independent regulatory oversight.

I can remember speaking about this concept four or five years ago and saying that we as a nation should be moving in this direction. This paper and the legislation have been a long time coming. These discussions have been going on in Australia for 10 years or more. I do not think that I would be wrong in saying that, if you go to an emergency section of any hospital in Australia, you will still see people pushing trolleys full of paper files around the place. That is pretty archaic. You hear of files being lost or filed in the wrong place or information being put in one file when it is supposed to be put in another. That addresses the issue that the last speaker spoke about: looking for some perfect process to replace the present system. The present system has a lot of holes in it. There are a lot of mistakes being made in the present system in the keeping of medical records. These areas are crowded and busy places and the filing systems sometimes do not keep up. I believe that this legislation is a way of removing all those problems by bringing in a faster and more efficient system that will use the modern technologies that we as a nation have available to us.

Individuals should be able to have some knowledge about what is in their health file. It is our health, after all. I am glad that we have overcome that argument. Politicians, celebrities and others who hit the press for one reason or another do not seem to have any privacy with their health issues and yet people worry about their health details being held electronically because someone might get unauthorised access. I understand that. However, I think that this will give us more privacy rather than less. It would also allow us to control what information is made public and not have to rely on bush whispers. If we are lying unconscious, at least all our information can be readily accessible wherever we are, with our local GP not having to be woken in the middle of the night in an emergency and asked what medication we are on.

There are a lot of good reasons why electronically controlled health records can help streamline the health system. They will allow us quicker access to informed help and give us back some feeling of control over our own health. That last point is important. We are asking people to take more control of and be more responsive to their own health and their own health needs. It is not going to be compulsory to have a PCEHR. People can nominate someone like their personal doctor or carer to have access to their electronic file. There is a choice. I for one would like to have my health information at my fingertips.

I note that the discussion paper had proposals to cover minors, those who are incapacitated and others who might find it difficult to access the information easily. The legislation is geared to cover those eventualities while still keeping the confidentiality of the record. There will be an opportunity to complain to a regulatory body if you are not satisfied with the use of your medical information or its privacy.

I think it makes a lot of sense to adopt this technology as part of the e-health agenda. It is expected to transform the way in which healthcare providers practise and consumers interact with the health system, and improve the safety and quality of healthcare and patient outcomes. I believe too that it will encourage us to take more responsibility for the state of our health. I am sure that we will seek more information about how our body works and how we can stay fitter and live longer by managing our own health. A lot of people now take more control over their chronic illnesses and we have programs to help them. These are good and positive things occurring throughout our health system. A lot of good people are working hard to achieve things.

I believe that this legislation is the start of a revolution in health information and it fits in well with this government's aim of moving our health system into the 21st century and beyond. This will add to the opportunities for health delivery in our nation that will be provided by the National Broadband Network. I support the bills.