The Australian Digital Health Agency has announced an expansion of its plans to enhance secure messaging functionality through partnerships with 42 healthcare organisations across the country.

The planned enhancements would help clinicians securely exchange messages with healthcare providers on different secure messaging platforms and ensure messages are sent in a standard format – the expansion includes secure messaging platforms across 56 separate software products.

Enabling secure provider-to-provider communication in healthcare is a key priority of the National Digital Health Strategy, as is eliminating paper-based messaging through means like fax machines and scanners.

The software industry, the clinical community and the agency itself have already agreed on new interoperability standards for secure messaging in 2018 that will ensure different systems can talk to each other – providers are required to integrate the new standards into their products by May 2020.

"We have made significant progress on secure messaging by working with industry on a provider directory model that breaks down barriers between clinicians, while still leveraging the investment that the secure messaging industry has made to date," ADHA chief operating officer Bettina McMahon said in a statement.

While there are significant pockets of secure messaging in use, for example, supporting pathology communications and discharge summaries from certain hospitals, there continues to be the lack of a consistent approach to secure messaging and information exchange across Australian healthcare, according to the ADHA.

The overall goal is to enhance the software available for healthcare providers in order to enable secure messaging platforms, thereby improving functionality, usability and interoperability, as well as speeding information relating to a patient's ongoing care.

The initial implementation projects will be underpinned by scenarios that cover discharge summaries from hospital to general practitioners or other providers, and referrals from general practitioners to specialists.

The first phase of implementation also covers reports from allied health to general practitioners, specialists or other providers.

"This is the next step that will ensure those new standards are adopted quickly so GPs, hospitals, specialists and other health practitioners can reap the full benefits of secure messaging, which include timelier receipt of clinical information and not having to chase or resend referrals," McMahon said.

The agency has also established a technical working group, with members from industry, to co-design solutions going forward, and early proof of concept implementation projects are being established to validate the solution approach and scalability.

Back in March the ADHA announced incentive to accelerate clinical software provider adoption of standards to deliver enhanced secure messaging functionality into their systems by 2020.

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