Patients reject eHealth system

Only 5029 people have joined the federal government's controversial $466 million eHealth system since it was launched on July 1.

Figures obtained from the Department of Health and Ageing show that each individual to take up the personally controlled electronic health record system (PCEHR) has so far cost the government $92,662. The slow uptake had been predicted in May, and confirmed soon after the online database started. A month later, glitches were revealed.

Patients can volunteer to join the system (via the department's website), which stores all their health information, including test results and prescriptions, in a national database. It is the first time patients will be able to access their medical details.

The Coalition's e-health spokesman, Andrew Southcott, compared the slow adoption to the government's problems with the Building the Education Revolution program and pink batts installation.

''The government's own target and benchmark was 500,000 sign-ups in the first year,'' he said.

''At the current rate, if they maintain this pace they will get approximately 60,000 so well short of the 500,000 and they are anticipating 6.8 million within four years.

''The low take-up shows that doctors and patients don't see it as being of much value at this point in time. This is the government that brought us school halls [BER refurbishment] and pink batts and lost control of our borders.''

Dr Southcott said the Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, was avoiding talking about the scheme.

''The government doesn't want to be associated with another disaster,'' he said. ''They championed it before the last election but they don't really seem to have a lot of enthusiasm for it now.''

A spokesman for Ms Plibersek said the service's introduction was a ''marathon, not a sprint''.

''That's the sensible way to deliver this significant reform,'' he said.

The Department of Health and Ageing said the implementation of eHealth was always going to be a staged process. ''We are delighted that without any fanfare or publicity that so many Australians have already registered, and a constant daily growth in registrations, the vast majority online,'' a spokeswoman said.

The Australian Medical Association's national president Steve Hambleton said the sign-up figures were evidence the government should have made inclusion in the system automatic and let patients choose to ''opt out''.

Dr Hambleton said the medical profession supported a one-stop source of medical information, but a critical mass of people was needed for it to function properly.

''There is no health information on the system yet anyway and GPs, for example, still haven't got software in their computers that lets them talk to the system.''

Of the 5029 registered so far 89 per cent of them had registered online while the remainder registered by phone, in writing or in person at a Medicare shopfront.

with Jim O'Rourke

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