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E-health dream comes a step closer

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The dream of a trustworthy, seamless and secure system for sending health information between providers, regardless of where they are or the platform they are using, is a step closer.

The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA), which began operations four months ago and has former AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton as a senior adviser, has launched a major program to realise the health potential of digital technology by developing a secure, fully interoperable sector-wide messaging system to enable practitioners to quickly and confidently send and receive vital medical information.

Years after many other industries have moved to predominantly digital communication, most healthcare providers continue to rely on fax machines because they do not have a way to securely send highly sensitive medical information or receive notification that it has been delivered or received, ADHA Chief Executive Tim Kelsey said.

“I keep hearing that our health professionals want to talk to each other routinely, securely, electronically – a situation that many currently find themselves unable to do,” Mr Kelsey said. “One of the first priorities for the Agency will be to partner with [medical software] industry, jurisdictions and healthcare professionals to solve the daily challenge of not having a way to send electronic messages to others in the health sector in a seamless, secure way.”

To keep the program on track and make sure it delivers the right outcomes for users, the Agency has appointed an external panel of advisers to lead it.

Designated as Senior Responsible Owners, the three experts, Dr Nathan Pinskier, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee on E-health and Practice Systems, Dr Mal Thatcher, CEO of eHealth Queensland, and community representative Fiona Panagoulias, will “shape the direction of the program and hold the Agency to account for delivering a program that results in clear benefits for the community”.

“The number one issue to be resolved in health care communications is the ability for healthcare providers to electronically communicate with each other directly, seamlessly and securely,” Dr Pinksier said. “Solving the provider-to-provider secure messaging usability issue will create the potential to leverage these healthcare communications for other purposes, including uploads to the My Health Record. The interoperability solution is within our grasp.”

The three experts will be supported by a Program Board comprising health providers and representatives from the technology industry, general practice, hospitals, Primary Health Networks and HealthDirect Australia.

No deadline for the work has been made public.

Adrian Rollins