Researchers question e-Health benefits

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Researchers question e-Health benefits

UK study finds benefits ‘more modest than expected’.

Researchers evaluating the UK's electronic health record system have found benefits of the now-suspended scheme to be "more modest than expected".

The Summary Care Record (SCR) scheme was implemented from 2008 to April 2010 as part of the English Government's National Programme for IT (NPfIT).

Like Australia's e-Health plan, the SCR scheme aimed to provide a centralised database containing patient details such as allergies, prescriptions and vaccination history.

The opt-out scheme was expected to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of healthcare but was discontinued on 16 April under advice from the British Medical Association, which raised the issues of cost and confidentiality.

Between 2007 and 2010, University College London researchers studied 400,000 healthcare encounters and conducted 140 interviews with policymakers, managers, clinicians and software suppliers involved in the scheme.

They found SCR adoption and use to be a "complex, technically challenging and labour-intensive" process that took place more slowly than originally planned.

While 1.5 million SCRs had been created by early 2010, available records were accessed in only 21 percent of encounters at participating primary care centres.

Individual clinicians were found to access available SCRs between zero and 84 percent of the time, and the researchers found SCRs to sometimes contain "incomplete or inaccurate data".

"Significant social and technical barriers to the widespread adoption and use of such records remain and their benefits to date appear more subtle and contingent than early policy documents predicted," researcher Trisha Greenhalgh and colleagues wrote in the British Medical Journal.

The researchers concluded that "large scale, centrally driven models for innovation in healthcare IT systems are - perhaps inevitably - associated with multiple competing perspectives, complex interdependencies, inherent tensions, and high implementation workload," suggesting closer collaboration between government, industry, and clinicians.

The Australian Government last month committed $466.7m of the 2010-11 Federal Budget towards establishing an opt-in, centralised patient record system by 2012-13.

Following the Budget announcement, Opposition leader Tony Abbott questioned the Government's e-Health plan, arguing that "no more should be spent until it's certain that we're not throwing good money after bad."

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