National E-Health Strategy
The Federal Government has a National E-Health Strategy, introduced in December 2008. What is it all about?
Health expenditure as a percentage of GDP has increased from 3.8% in 1960-61 to 9% in 2005-06, and this is forecast to increase to 20% of GDP by 2045.  The key challenge for us, as a nation, is to fund this increasing health cost. This is of particular relevant to senior Australians. Within the health system two specific challenges are: finding sufficient numbers of health care workers to meet current and future demands; and having an efficient and comprehensive information technology (IT) platform to deliver services. This is where the National E-Health Strategy comes in, targeting both economic and social issues. (Click here to view a PDF copy of the Strategy Summary).
The Strategy notes, “at its core, health is a knowledge industry with information being central to all aspects of care planning, management and delivery.”  Compared with other sectors (such as telecommunications and finance), the health sector has not invested sufficiently and consistently over the past 20 to 30 years in information technology. The result is that critical patient information and data cannot be shared easily between service providers, with adverse impacts on patient safety and creating huge inefficiencies and unnecessary costs.
E-Health is defined by the World Health Organisation as “the transfer of health resources and health care by electronic means. It encompasses three main areas:
- The delivery of health information, for health professionals and health consumers, through the Internet and telecommunications.
- Using the power of IT and e-commerce to improve public health services, e.g. through the education and training of health workers.
- The use of e-commerce and e-business practices in health systems management.”
Investment in eHealth infrastructure has been occurring at a state level and within individual practices, groups or providers. The National E-Health Strategy aims to provide a framework and infrastructure to coordinate and align investment. “E-Health will enable a safer, higher quality, more equitable and sustainable health system for all Australians by transforming the way information is used to plan, manage and deliver health care services.” 
The Individual Electronic Health Record (IEHR) system is part of the Strategy and in July 2012, the Federal Government launched the eHealth record system. “A personally controlled eHealth record is a secure online summary of your health information. You control what goes into it, and who is allowed to access it.” (www.ehealth.gov.au) * We think that these initiatives make sense and are necessary, but from a philosophical point of view the changes demand consideration, as we weigh up individual rights (to the privacy and security of our data, for example) against our expectations of the state to efficiently provide up-to-date, timely and cost-effective health care.
For retirement communities like ours, eHealth already has relevance. We provide one type of electronic health solution – Telecare via the Tunstall Personal Alarm system, which allows residents to maintain their independence with the security of being connected to a 24-hour response centre. Our system accommodates both active components (pushing the call-button) and passive devices (such as fall detectors). Telehealth solutions are a more complex set of technologies and systems, simply described as “… the delivery of health-related services and information via telecommunications technologies.” We can also facilitate these as needed.
As the landscape for the electronic delivery of health services continues to rapidly evolve, we continue to stay abreast of developments and opportunities to provide our residents, with relevant services and information that help you maintain healthy, active, independent lifestyles.
References and Links:
1. National E-Health Strategy Summary, p2
2. National E-Health Strategy Summary, p2
3. National E-Health Strategy Summary, p5
4. Australian Government’s eHealth website, http://www.ehealth.gov.au/
6. World Health Organisation webiste, link here