Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Open Source for Australian e-Health

Ian Bull from ACT Health delivered an excellent talk on ICT in Health Delivery in the 21st Century at the ACS Canberra meeting, 11 November. The state and federal health authorities have been working on a $165M project over the last three years to produce integrated e-health standards for Australia. I suggest this work be expanded with an additional $50M to produce open source software implementing these standards.

Ian discussed the work of the
National EHealth Transition Authority (NEHTA) and intermeshed with state health authorities, including the ACT. This is a complex project involving data standrads, changes to medical business processes and issues of access to health data accross state boarders. While a high risk project, it has large potential benefits for improved health and savings in health care costs.

One interesting aspect is that this project avoided being mired in the failed health and social services access card project of the previous federal government. There are no plans to issue a standard health card as part of the project, although this would be done for identifying doctors and other health workers.

The techncial standards being developed are available free online for use by Australian medical system developers. However, I suggest that the project could go further and develop open source software implementing the standards. This could be used to prove operation of the standrads, to aid Australian software developers in implementation, to help developing nations with implementing e-health systems and to boost the Australian e-health export industry.

The Australian medical software industry is fragmented with very many small companies producing software packages for doctors and other health professionals. Producing software to interface to the new national standards will be a large burden for this firms. Instead, the government (Medicare Australia in particular) could fund development of open source software which would proud a proof of concept of the new standards. The companies could then incorporate this software in their systems to produce commercial packages. As well as providing for the domestic market, this could create an export industry in e-health. Exports could concentrate on new markets in developing nations using new technologies, such as mobile phones to replace doctor's computers.

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