In an announcement that may do little to allay concerns about patient privacy and cybersecurity in healthcare, the Australian Digital Health Agency has announced today that “fax-free healthcare is one step closer”.

Faxes, those remnants of the 90s, are still used within a healthcare system slow to adapt to digital technologies, which means that a paper record containing details of a patient’s pathology result, STI diagnosis and treatment can be distributed via a long superseded and woefully insecure technology.

According to today’s announcement, the ADHA and clinical information systems vendors are working together to implement secure electronic messaging between healthcare providers.

The technology will have a big impact on a sector in which confidential patient records are regularly transmitted by dated systems such as facsimile and post, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee on eHealth and Practice Systems, Dr Nathan Pinskier, said.

"The number one issue to be resolved in healthcare communications is the ability for healthcare providers to electronically communicate with each other directly, seamlessly and securely," Pinskier said in the ADHA’s statement.

The new technology will allow health data to flow securely from one healthcare provider to another irrespective of the software they use. It will also eliminate the need to place paperwork into a machine, dial a (presumably correct) number, and allow records to be disgorged by a machine at the other end.

ADHA CEO Tim Kelsey said the agency has partnered with industry, jurisdictions and healthcare professionals, and undertaken technical work over months to bring secure systems into clinical practice.

“I have been listening to key partners in the community on their aspirations for the Digital Health Agency and ways it can support key health priorities in Australia,” Kelsey said.

"Secure messaging between providers is one of the key themes that comes up in these discussions, and getting it right will create opportunities to leverage these communications for other purposes, including uploads to the My Health Record.”

The agency has contracted HealthLink to implement a secure message system between GPs and specialists, and Telstra to develop a secure system for sending discharge summaries to GPs and other healthcare providers.

The My Health Record currently contains the medical records of almost five million Australians. All Australians will have a My Health Record in 2018 unless they choose to opt out.