In support of a paperless industry, the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) has launched an initiative to enhance secure messaging functionality by 2020.
The initiative, a $30,000 boost to software vendors, aims to enable clinical software providers with the support necessary to adopt and integrate new secure messaging standards into existing clinical information and messaging systems.
All private vendors that currently operate a clinical information or secure messaging system with secure messaging capabilities at two different sites as a minimum are eligible for the funding.
The move is expected to help health professionals using different platforms to securely send important health information, such as referrals, specialist letters and hospital discharge summaries, to patients and other health professionals.
Eliminating paper-based messaging in healthcare has been a priority for the National Digital Health Strategy, which was approved in 2017 by all states and territories through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Health Council.
Since then, the ADHA has been working with software and healthcare providers to develop a set of standards that will improve the secure exchange of healthcare information.
A trial of the co-designed standards was run in 2018, overcoming what were then the two final hurdles to making different platforms interoperable: universal message formats and the ability to search multiple databases of healthcare providers.
“The industry has agreed to the same interpretations and allowed their systems to display messages in a number of formats: RTF, PDF, CDA, and HL7 version 2,” ADHA Chief Operating Officer Bettina McMahon said previously.
Being able to find the details of a healthcare provider was the other major hurdle, as different healthcare vendors maintain their own databases and a GP using a platform from one vendor often can’t find clinicians using a different one.
The set up of a distributed directory would allow clinicians with one vendor to be able to search all databases, according to McMahon.
Following the success of the trial, the agency is now encouraging widespread adoption.
ADHA Chief Medical Adviser Clinical Professor Meredith Makeham said many healthcare professionals are already using secure messaging platforms; however, many of them are not compatible with one another, resulting in these professionals using fax machines or the post to send information to one another.
“The inability of healthcare providers to share information quickly can lead to communication breakdown, which can contribute to poor health outcomes and unnecessary duplication of care,” Makeham said.
“This is a significant step toward ensuring healthcare providers can use the tools they already have to send information to their patients and other clinicians providing those patients care, and in turn provide safer and more comprehensive care.”
Consumers Health Forum of Australia Chief Executive Officer Leanne Wells said a modern, connected health system requires modern communication technologies and interoperability.
“Manila folders of paper records and fax machines aren’t good enough in the 21st century – secure, robust and interoperable messaging is fundamental to creating the patient-centred health system Australia needs and deserves,” she said.
General Practitioner and Advisor to the ADHA, Dr Nathan Pinskier said the initiative is an “important next step” on the path to mainstream adoption of secure electronic communications in healthcare.
“Secure communications will provide more efficient, safer and direct transfer of clinical information between healthcare providers,” he said.
“Numerous coroners’ reports have highlighted the risks of a continued reliance on legacy systems such as fax and post. It’s time for healthcare as an industry and profession to adopt 21st century communications solutions.”
Vendors interested in the initiative can express their interest on ADHA’s website.