In what is being signalled as a leap forward in the development of secure messaging, two Australian health tech titans announced this week that they have achieved two-way interoperability for the sharing of clinical information.
 
Documents including referrals, specialist letters, diagnostic results and discharge summaries are now being securely exchanged by healthcare providers using Global Health’s ReferralNet and Telstra Health’s Argus secure messaging platforms, according to the announcement.
 
“This is what everyone has been waiting for,” Nikki Thrift, General Manager of Connectivity for Global Health, told Healthcare IT News Australia.
 
“Secure Messaging is complex. It requires an understanding of standards and capabilities to pull together something that works, is supportable and useable, not to mention, most importantly, reliable and scalable so that health practitioners nationwide can adopt interoperability.”
 
Thrift said the benefits of this information-sharing breakthrough will be significant once it’s adopted throughout the healthcare sector.
 
“We are collectively working with a number of GPs, specialists, primary health networks and healthcare organisations to scale their adoption. What we should see is a significant increase in information sent and received securely – and the reduction in the time-consuming, costly manual practices (post, fax and scanning). Practice efficiency will increase, adherence to privacy principles will be achieved and patient care will improve.”
 
Melbourne GP and technology advocate Dr Mukesh Haikerwal has hailed the development as an exciting step towards solving the interoperability problem.
 
“I am so excited that we have now broken the nexus of ehealth from a ‘superhighway to nowhere’ to a joined-up system,” Haikerwal said.
 
“Messages on one system can now actually be produced, encrypted, sent, logged, received, noted and acted upon in another system: no fuss, no fax! It’s not rocket-science – but it is hard yakka to succeed and implement change.”
 
The collaboration is an example of industry working to improve interoperability in the health system, according to Telstra Health’s Head of Core Businesses Michael Boyce.
 
“The enthusiastic participation we’ve experienced on this project from Global Health and practitioners across the health sector demonstrates the huge appetite from industry to make progress in this area,” Boyce said.
 
More than 600 messages have been exchanged via a dozen clinical software vendors such as Best Practice, Medical Director and Cerner.
 
Dr Nathan Pinskier, chair of the RACGP’s Expert Committee for eHealth and Practice Systems, said this collaboration will help to move healthcare into the 21st century.
 
“This is a great example of the value of software industry and provider collaboration. It achieves an outcome that the RACGP has been advocating and moves the healthcare sector another step closer to achieving the benefits of an interoperable ehealth environment and the long overdue retirement of the fax machine.”
 
How it works
 
According to Global Health, secure messaging interoperability was achieved using the existing Secure Message Delivery (SMD) standard specification (ATS 5822-2010 eHealth Secure Message Delivery) that was jointly developed by the Australian government, the software industry and Standards Australia.
 
Existing document formats used within clinical systems in both HL7 and CDA are digitally signed and encrypted with destination addresses resolved through federated lookups from multiple provider directories, including government maintained directories and each messaging vendor’s subscriber directories. Cross-vendor support mechanisms have been established to handle issues that may arise as messages are sent, received and acknowledged across each network.