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National health messaging systems get green light

by Justin Hendry •
Free resource

Topics: Software; Digital Transformation; Fed.

The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) will use three on-the-ground projects to begin rolling out the first Australia-wide electronic messaging systems for securely transferring clinical information between healthcare providers.

The agency is currently seeking proposals from industry, including secure messaging suppliers and clinical information systems suppliers, which are interested in developing secure messaging capabilities for specific areas of the health sector.

In collaboration with end users, suppliers will demonstrate a working model for one of three key use cases: transferring referrals between GP’s and specialists, interactions between allied health professionals and GP’s or specialists, and communicating hospital discharge summaries to GP’s.

The proof of concept projects are the first steps towards the ADHA’s longer-term strategy for secure messaging, and “will inform national development and adoption”.

“The interoperability solution must be able to be scaled to a national implementation and also be interoperable with products and suppliers that are not participants in the project”, states tender documents.

The ADHA launched its Secure Messaging Program in October 2016 and has since been consulting with industry on the benefits of using secure electronic messaging for health providers.

The program aims to enable messages to flow seamlessly and securely from one healthcare provider to another, irrespective of technology platform or location – something which the agency considers a “core foundational capability”.

A spokesperson from the agency said the purpose of the program was to “improve the adoption and use of ‘point to point’ messaging across care providers and the clinical information systems being used across the sector”, giving healthcare providers “confidence that the message will be received and can be read by the recipient”.

As such, the proof of concept projects must be implemented in an interoperable manner to allow healthcare providers to send clinical documents “from the EMR [Electronic Medical Record] of one healthcare provider organisation through multiple messaging systems to another healthcare provider organisation where it can be read either through the EMR of the receiving organisation or in some other manner”, states tender documents.

The agency is also working with existing software suppliers and jurisdictions to “improve the interoperability between existing secure messaging implementations”, according to the spokesperson.

Despite a December 2013 review of the then-Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record recommending the implementation of a standardised secure messaging platform, there is currently no sector-wide point-to-point messaging system in place across Australia, forcing many healthcare providers to rely on fax as a means of delivering messages.

“While there are significant pockets of secure messaging in use... there continues to be a lack of a consistent approach to secure messaging and information exchange across Australian healthcare”, states tender documents.

The Department of Human Services’ National Authentication Service for Health (NASH) Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificates is currently used to facilitate the exchange of sensitive eHealth information through compliant Secure Message Delivery solutions, but tender documents indicate that there has been low penetration of the service across specialist and allied health areas.

NASH PKI certificates are also used by healthcare providers to access the My Health Record (MyHR), however, the spokesperson said that improvements to secure messaging through the Secure Messaging Program were being conducted separately to the MyHR.

The Secure Messaging Program is being currently overseen by interim eHealth Queensland CEO/CIO Mal Thatcher, Chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Expert Committee on eHealth and Practice Systems Nathan Pinskier, and community representative Fiona Panagoulias. A Board consisting of representatives from the technology industry, healthcare, primary health network, hospital and general practice, and HealthDirect Australia, will provide support.

Pinskier considers the ability for healthcare providers to electronically communicate with each other as the “number one” issue to be resolved in health care communications.

“Solving the provider to provider secure messaging usability issue will create the potential to leverage these healthcare communications for other purposes including uploads to the My Health Record”.

The ADHA replaced the National e-Health Transition Authority on 1 July 2016, and is currently undertaking consultations for the development of the National Digital Health Strategy, which will be released later this year.

Submissions to the RFT will close 3 March 2017, with implementation of the project to commence in April.

DHS is also planning to approach the market in quarter three 2016-17 for PKI services for Australian health professionals. This software procurement was originally planned for quarter three 2015-16.

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  • Federal
  • Software
  • Health