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Australian Digital Health Agency seeks to develop a national Strategic Interoperability Framework

The Australian Digital Health Agency (DHA) has released a Request for Tender (RFT) to develop a Strategic Interoperability Framework for Australia, with the objective of creating a seamless health system which delivers high quality, safe care through better sharing of information. Sharing patient information across the Australian healthcare system would require the alignment of policy, workflow, patient information and business models. 

DHA conducted a consultation with the community recently, with more than 1,000 survey responses and written submissions. Over 65% of respondents said that the Australian healthcare system is difficult to navigate. People want to know the cost, quality, and availability of services, and desire to have a more integrated service experience.

The outcome of the RFT will shape the future design of an interoperable health system where the Australian Government continues to own, operate and deliver the infrastructure, while working with industry to ensure that Australians can access the health information they need where and when they need it.

The RFT document notes that interoperability of Australia's health systems is a key driver of social justice in health care. The challenge is to recognise the opportunities and challenges of sharing data for its citizens through achieving a digitally interoperable environment, while ensuring the protection and confidentiality of personal health information.

DHA is looking at a broader concept of interoperability, including not just technical considerations, but also the social and economic context.

There are two key deliverables. The first is to undertake a review of successful interoperability efforts in other jurisdictions or industries where relevant to the Australian health system and documenting the key success factors, not limited to technological factors. The successful Tenderer will also document the current health interoperability directions and strategies that are being pursued in various jurisdictions within Australia.  

The second is the development of the ‘Strategic Interoperability Framework’ itself. The Framework will be required to include an overview of guiding interoperability principles and the component parts of an interoperable health eco-system that would deliver more connected services to people accessing health services in Australia. It will be used as the foundation for an implementation plan to address current disconnections and move Australia to a more interoperable environment within a 5 and 10 year timeframe.

The framework will be required to include the following audiences: community; including healthcare consumers and their carers; software vendor organisations, including clinical software and secure messaging vendors; innovators new to the health sector; and the system operators (e.g. HI Service operator, NASH operator, My Health Record1 system operator) via the DHA; Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Healthcare; and Standards Australia and its digital health subcommittee/s.

Ms. Bettina McMahon Executive General Manager, Government, Industry & Delivery, who will lead this project, said, “Interoperability requires recognising the known concerns of patients and healthcare providers and working through useful approaches to manage the potential risks.”

The CEO of the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, Adjunct Professor Debora Picone AM, welcomed the decision to tender for a national interoperability framework, saying, "We know the key to a high-quality health care system is the secure, timely and accurate sharing of information between health providers and their patients. The Commission is looking forward to working with the Agency and Australian jurisdictions to support an interoperable health system.”

Responses to the RFT close on June 26. The procurement phase for the new system expected to commence in the middle of 2017.

1In the 2017-18 Budget, the Australian government allocated AU$374.2 million for national rollout of opt-out model of My Health Record.

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