From Medical Director to Microsoft – another Australian e-health delay drama

From today’s edition of 6 minutes:

“A pharmacy-driven electronic prescribing project announced with much fanfare earlier this year has hit a setback with one partner, prescribing software company Medical Director, going cold on the project.

“In March the Pharmacy Guild announced a ScriptX project to start in October which would allow GPs to create electronic prescriptions on a central encrypted hub that any participating pharmacy could access and dispense.

“But the project’s creators, pharmacy software company Fred Health, now says it is looking to work with new partners such as Microsoft to develop a similar system, known as eRx Script Exchange, to start next year.

A spokesman for the company, Mr Paul Naismith, told 6minutes that their original partners HCN, the vendors of Medical Director, had decided not to go ahead with the SciptX project as planned.”

Is this the precursor to Microsoft launching its HealthVault product in Australia? Meanwhile, no great surprises that HCN/Medical Director have backed out on the project; if a teacher was to give a report card on HCN, it would no doubt include the comment, “Does not play well with other children”…

Why Google Health?

“You know that money beats soul, every time.” – Jim Morrison, the Doors

I have been itching to write a post where I can slip in a quote from my favourite anti-hero, Jim Morrison. So what on earth does this have to do with Google Health? As I was researching a story about Google and e-health for my oft-mentioned feature for Australian Doctor, I came across some interesting questions – and potential answers – about Google’s foray into something seemingly so far from their core business:

“When it comes to health, Google has become the main place patients turn to for health information online. As well as anecdotal stories such as the US man who walked into a hospital after a Google search of his symptoms correctly led to a self-diagnosis of a heart attack, research shows that seeking health information has consistently rated among the most popular activities of Internet users (more than 80%), and Google is the place where 70% of them start their search.

“Doctors like it too. A study published in Australian Family Physician last month revealed that Google was also more popular with Australian GPs surveyed than the next five web sites combined. They said they used Google because of its ability to lead to other web sites of value, its speed and ease of use, its convenience and its wide applicability.

Looking to the future, Google is also positioning itself for a dominant role in a world where medicine is increasingly linked to the Internet with the recent launch of Google Health, an online personal health record service where patients can enter any or all of their medical histories to create a portable data record that can be accessed by a variety of doctors and other health professionals.

“…. Advocates argue that a Google Health personal health record will result in better-informed patients, fewer redundant tests and better-prepared doctors who can get a more complete picture by having their patients’ entire medical history in front of them. Access to crucial information such as allergies and current medications will allow doctors in scenarios such as emergency rooms to avoid many of the medical mistakes that injure patients or land them in hospital for long stays.

Privacy experts, meanwhile, are up in arms about the potential downsides of such a system, particularly in the hands of a company with no history of handling trusted medical data. They have raised strong concerns that private and personal records could be bought and sold by organisations such as pharmaceutical companies.

“…. Like its other services, Google Health is available free to anyone who is willing to take the time to fill out their profile. The “do no evil” cynics have questioned Google’s motives in straying from its core search business. As a Washington Post writer put it: ‘Why would Google take on such a big, difficult project — creating complex data exchange systems and storing all that personal information — if there’s no way to make money?

“’A strong personal health dashboard linked to other Google services, including its cash-cow search business, can make sure those health-seekers stay with Google rather than with the competition. Like Microsoft, for instance.’”

They may seem like they’re just out to provide a useful service to the Internet-using public, but in the long run, making money – and keeping money out of competitors’ pockets – is behind Google Health.

Money beats soul, every time…

If the government can’t do it, maybe Google (or Microsoft) can

So now Google has entered the market for electronic health records, six months after Microsoft announced it was doing the same thing. Google has supposedly developed an impenetrably secure computer platform that would allow people to keep their medical records online, so that they can be shared by doctors other than your local GP (particularly useful if you end up in the emergency room out of hours).

Like most of these things, both Google Health and Microsoft’s Health Vault have only been launched in the US so far, although a Google Australia spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald today that while there was a strong recognition in Australia of the significant benefits to patients of this type of service, there was “no current timetable” on a rollout of the service for local users.

Message to Kevin Rudd and Nicola Roxon – take a look at both of these services; maybe money should be spent developing these universal tools, rather than the tens of millions of dollars that have been thrown at HealthConnect and the National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA), so far to no result.

More information