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Enhancing healthcare

By Mukesh Haikerwal - posted Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Australia’s health system has an enviable record internationally. There are, however, significant sectors in the community where lack of access brings with it inequities. A growing demand for healthcare reform has been recognised to prepare Australia for the future and to maintain the high standards we have and demand. Drivers include an ageing population, an increase in the prevalence of chronic diseases, advances in medical technology and knowledge, better informed health consumers, and a need to strengthen the safety and quality of healthcare.

To ensure a sustainable future Australia’s governments have promoted healthcare reform. Integral to this is e-health - for the system, the individuals who will use it and those who work within it.

That’s one of the reasons why the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) was established - to develop a national approach to better collect and securely exchange health information electronically. Australian Health Ministers, through the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council (AHMAC), commissioned “The National E-Health Strategy”, presented in December 2008, which provides a guide to the further development of e-health in Australia. In addition, the recent National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC) report provided the governments of Australia with a practical national plan for health reform with e-health seen as a real driver of change that will benefit all Australians.


The benefits of implementation of a national e-health system apply to all sections of the healthcare system. They stem from safer, more accurate, timely, reliable transfer of clinical information from known reliable sources which health providers can access and use for care with certainty - securely and encompassing the confidentiality and privacy principles which remain central to care. Understanding how e-health can address patient safety is key to NEHTA’s work.

Gathering patient information from multiple sources in many formats to follow care and interventions is arduous and inefficient. Mismatching of patients’ records and results is a documented problem for the health system. A clear link has been established between avoidable delays in patient care, deaths and poor medical records management. For instance:

Preventable errors:

  • up to 18 per cent of medical errors are attributed to inadequate availability of patient information;
  • medication prescribing errors are estimated to cost $380 million per year in the public hospital system.

Reduced productivity:

  • 25 per cent of a clinician’s time is spent collecting information rather than administering care.

Costly misuse of resources:

  • up to 35 per cent of referrals to hospitals could be avoided by improved communication of health information.

Helping to inform and guide NEHTA’s work are more than 25 well-respected and experienced clinicians to inform and guide its work. As the National Clinical Lead I have responsibility for co-ordinating this accomplished and multidisciplinary group of clinicians.

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For further information on NEHTA’s work go to

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About the Author

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal is a practicing General Medical Practitioner, Commissioner to the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission and Professor in the School of Medicine in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia. He is currently working with the National e-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) as the National Clinical Lead, leading a team of healthcare providers from multi disciplinary backgrounds, to assist in NEHTA’s liaison with the healthcare community and to provide input into the development of the NEHTA work program to deliver e-health for Australia. He was also the former head of the Federal Australian Medical Association (AMA) that is responsible for national policy development, lobbying with federal parliamentarians, co-ordinating activity across the AMA State entities and representing the AMA and its members nationally and internationally.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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