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Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy promotes interoperable and secure communication

Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy promotes interoperable and secure communication

An announcement
by the Australian Digital Health Agency highlighted on Australia’s
National Digital Health Strategy
and how it will be able to solve
problems concerning interoperability and secure communication. This strategy
will also end dependence on fax machines and paper-based correspondence.

In order to address the issue of
interoperability and secured communication among healthcare providers,
professionals and patients and support the uptake of digital health services,
the Council
of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council
approved Australia’s
National Digital Health Strategy. They described the strategy as Safe, Seamless
and Secure.

The urgency to do so was brought about by an
incident with a fax machine. Outdated and unsecure fax machines are still being
used to share patient information between healthcare providers. It has become a
source of frustration for healthcare providers. Plus, it can cause harm to a

In May 2018, a coroner’s report revealed
that a Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient died alone because his medical test results
were faxed to the wrong number. Thus, his haematologist did not receive the
vital information that could have saved his life.

A key priority of the strategy is empowering
healthcare providers to communicate with other professionals and their patients
via secure digital channels thereby ending dependence on fax machines and
paper-based correspondence.

On 6 June 2018, a secure messaging industry
collaboration workshop was attended by key industry participants where they agreed
to adopt the tools, processes, and standards that have been demonstrated to
solve the interoperability problems across secure messaging and clinical
information systems.

The meeting was co-chaired by Medical Software Industry
(MSIA) President Emma Hossack, Australian Digital Health
Agency Chief Operating Officer Ms Bettina McMahon, and Dr Nathan Pinskier,
Chair of the Royal
Australian College of General Practitioners
(RACGP) Expert Committee
for eHealth and Practice Systems, and Chair of the Australian Digital Health Agency’s
Secure Messaging Program Steering Group.

Ms Hossack confirmed that the industry is
committed to advancing interoperability in secure messaging and across the
health sector.

She said, “Health information is stored in
diverse health software and frequently needs to be shared. Without
interoperability, this information may need to be scanned and faxed or even
posted. Not only can this be dangerous but also highly inefficient.”

Telstra Health leads a consortium that
tests the delivery of discharge summaries from Royal Melbourne Hospital to a
number of general practitioners. Other participants in this project are CorePlus,
Genie Solutions, Global Health, HealthLink, and Zedmed.

Telstra Health Head of Strategy and Policy
Dr Phuong Pham explained that being able to connect and securely share
information is necessary to support the safety, quality, and efficiency of the
health system.

Healthlink leads another consortium tasked
to test the delivery of referrals from a range of general practitioners to
specialists. Participants in this work are MedicalDirector, Best Practice
Software, Genie Solutions, Global Health, and Telstra Health.

HealthLink CEO Tom Bowden said, “The
ability to select any practice from a federated directory search will be a
major step forward for eHealth across Australia.”

Both consortia are finalising a federated
search capability wherein a single search will identify Australian healthcare
providers, providing convenience and transparency for clinicians looking up
other clinicians.

The projects have also been extended to
include allied health practitioners and electronic medical record (EMR)
products used in that domain.

Dr Pinskier shared, “In late 2016, Agency
CEO Tim Kelsey visited my practice.  He offered
me the opportunity to become involved with a new and invigorated secure
messaging program. Clinicians have been understandably frustrated with the
ongoing delays and lack of progress towards achieving truly interoperable, easy
to use and highly available secure messaging in the healthcare sector.”

Ms McMahon said that partnering with the
rest of the industry and their customers is the key to solving the
interoperability issues.

She explained, “Secure messaging systems
and standards have been in place for many years, but as a country, we’ve
struggled to implement at a national scale. It has taken time to co-produce a
workable solution with industry that meets the expectations of the clinical

She added, “We started this project 18 months
ago. But to adopt a true co-production process takes this long, and ultimately,
has allowed us to reach consensus about how we will scale digital communication.”


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