Numbers for eHealth lagging

THE federal government's controversial eHealth system to get the nation's medical records available online has had a dismal uptake from the public and the medical profession.

The scheme has been compared to the government's bungled roof insulation system by the Coalition's eHealth spokesman, Andrew Southcott, who called it ''Pink Batts on steroids''.

The eHealth scheme was launched with fanfare in July, with an advertising truck touring Australia to encourage 500,000 people to register in the first year. The Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, declared: ''We estimate eHealth will save the federal government around $11 billion over 15 years. That's pretty good bang for your buck.''

But the bang appears to have turned to a fizzle after a parliamentary estimates committee was told that only 56,761 people had registered.

Mr Southcott said that of 560,000 health practitioners nationwide, 1325 had registered.

The system has also crashed in the past, according to Mukesh Haikerwal, a GP and former Australian Medical Association president who is helping the National E-Health Transition Authority with the introduction of the scheme.

Dr Haikerwal has toured the country to tell the medical profession about eHealth and will be in Sydney this week.

He said he was one of the few doctors linked into the complete eHealth service and went live with it at his Melbourne practice in mid-December to test the system. ''When I logged on, I got thrown out and was told the service was not available. It crashed. I contacted the Health Department and they said it hadn't crashed - but then I sent them a screen grab. Then they admitted we have had a crash. If the Qantas website was like this, you would say, 'I will go to the travel agent instead.'

''The potential is great but all the snags around the country need to be addressed. The end-users want this to work but it is a bit of a hard sell at the moment. When you do use it, there's not an awful lot on there. The way it is at the moment, I would struggle to know why I would use it.''

Mr Southcott said: ''We are three years down the track with almost $1 billion spent and nothing to show for it. It's Pink Batts on steroids.''

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Ageing said: ''We've always said that this is a marathon, not a sprint.''

This story Numbers for eHealth lagging first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.