South Australia plans three new e-health systems

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South Australia plans three new e-health systems
Mouse and stethoscope

Public service shrinks.

The South Australia Government will spent $191.7 million to develop and roll out three new electronic healthcare systems in a bid to deliver a single access point for patient records and medical imaging.

Despite an otherwise tight 2012-2013 budget for the state, the government committed to developing a "digital health system" that tied together patient records and test results from disparate systems and hospitals.

Funding for the programs includes $30.4 million over two years toward a new digital system for pathology testing, providing a state-wide storage system for all test results.

An $18.7 million medical imaging system to store X-Rays, Ultrasound images, and CT and MRI scans would also be developed. The system would "almost completely eliminate the need for hard copy films, film storage and retrieval costs", according to budget papers, and would be tasked with storing some 625,000 imaging examinations annually for access by 600 health staff.

The biggest project, however, came in the form of a state-wide electronic health record aimed at standardising disparate record systems and providing real-time access to clinicians. It received a total $142.6 million over ten years toward development of the system with the aim of having a pilot live by early next year.

SA Health's manager of e-health services, Bill Le Blanc, told the CeBIT conference last week that the records project particularly was the culmination of years of work laying the required foundations.

It included several significant governance and legislative changes since 2008 that saw the individual boards and CEOs of each state hospital dissolved, and the IT departments at each consolidated into a single shared services function for the entire health system.

"You can't just take the distribution DVD for enterprise [software], just and keep clicking 'next' on the installation and when you finish think you're going to have a robust system," he said at the time.

"You can't run an enterprise-class electronic health records system on health-grade infrastructure with 400 generalists."

It is expected the new systems would reduce errors and ensure data integrity through patient data matching technology and data scanning.

"The new digitised system will give doctors faster access to the patient information they need to make life-saving decisions," said Jack Snelling, state treasurer.

Other upgrades

Other new IT investments in the budget will see the state government top up its Emergency Alert system, spending $1.7 million over four years to upgrade the National Emergency Warning System.

The upgraded system would allow emergency services to deliver warning messages to mobile phones within an affected area.

The budget also included $792,000 over two years to install digital projection systems in regional theatres in Whyalla, Renmark and Port Pirie in an attempt to beat a 2013 deadline for a transation to digital films.

Belt tightening

As with other federal & state government budgets this year, the public sector workforce will be expected to contribute to savings, Snelling said in his budget speech [pdf].

The savings imply a slow-down for IT operation expenditure not explicitly boosted in the budget for the coming years.

Government agencies will cut one percent a year from their budgets from 2013–14, delivering savings of up to $129.5 million per year by 2015–16.

The cuts are also expected to reduce public service staff numbers by 1000 over three years, delivering additional savings of $86.6 million a year.

As a percentage of the total workforce, the public sector will be the smallest it has been since 2000, according to the Treasurer.

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