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Secure messaging – a real e-health payoff

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Australian specialists are increasingly discovering the direct benefits for their practices and their patients of using secure message delivery (SMD) for communication with other health professionals.

While SMD has been overshadowed as an e-health development by the focus on the My Health Record, the AMA has long advocated for SMD to be supported and promoted as a key enabling technology.

SMD should fill a practical need for every medical practice that communicates clinical information with other health providers.

Communicating important clinical information by fax machine or hard copy letter can be time consuming, expensive and unreliable. Sending the same information electronically, directly and securely, to its destination has advantages all round; for the doctor, the receiving health service and for the patient.

The alternative to secure electronic communication for many medical practices is to cut and paste, transcribe or print information from the practice system into a paper-based letter or online form. The information is then sent via post, fax, online upload, or unsecured email, which involves extra time, cost, and lack of security.

Information from other health providers can arrive in hardcopy letters, faxes, reports and unsecured emails. This information must then be captured and added to the practice’s clinical records using valuable practice resources. At each step there is the potential for information to be missed, added to the wrong record or otherwise corrupted.

There are direct and significant benefits if electronic communications with external healthcare providers and agencies are sent using secure messaging, including:

–        secure exchange of private and confidential clinical information and documents;

–        reduced paper correspondence to be managed in the practice, and reduced postage costs;

–        improved workflow and reduced errors (less time chasing referrals and results, scanning, printing, filing, posting);

–        improved patient privacy, consistent with data privacy principles;

–        system notification of successful message delivery;

–        the flagging of documents according to clinical urgency or requirements; and

–        more timely receipt of clinical information 

Dr Jill Tomlinson, surgeon and member of AMA Federal Council, is enthusiastic about the benefits SMD offers her practice.

“Secure messaging provides real benefits for my practice,” Dr Tomlinson said. “It improves our administrative workflow and gets letters out fast. I’ve had times when I’ve left a phone message for a referring GP about a shared patient I’ve seen and by the time we connect via phone a few hours later they’ve already received the correspondence.”

Implementing SMD within Dr Tomlinson’s practice has required some administrative workflow changes.

“Getting the software installed was easy, but one of the slightly challenging elements was ensuring that every referring doctor that we added to our address book had their SMD details listed.

“Without this information in our address book, the administrative staff member had to look up the doctor in a separate directory. This meant we had to remember to ‘think before you fax’.”

Dr Tomlinson’s experience suggests it’s time that practices changed their letterhead, replacing their fax number with their SMD details.

“It makes sense for a medical practice to put their HealthLink, Argus or other SMD provider details on their letterhead, rather than their fax number.

“That tells other healthcare providers what your preferred system is, and enables receptionists to put the details in the practice’s address book without having to search for them in one or more directories.

“Having your fax number on your letterhead, instead of your secure messaging details, perpetuates an archaic reliance on faxing.

“Easy access to your SMD details will support use of secure messaging, the way of the future.”

Martin Mullane, AMA Senior Policy Adviser