Digital Health Agency responds to calls to fix electronic messaging

The Australian Digital Health Agency is launching a major program with the medical software industry and healthcare providers to realise the direct benefits for providers and their patients of using secure, electronic messaging for communicating with other health professionals.

"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," CEO Tim Kelsey said.

"I have had hundreds of conversations with patient and public advocates, leaders in public and private health services, the clinical community, industry, peak bodies and innovators. I have met with frontline professionals and service-users who have taken me through ways in which digital technology can support them better.

"I keep hearing that our healthcare professionals want to talk to each other routinely, securely, electronically – a situation that many currently find themselves unable to do. One of the first priorities for the Agency will be to partner with the 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."

The lack of an interoperable, sector-wide messaging system takes valuable time away from frontline care professionals and creates difficulties when a provider sending a message does not know if the message was delivered or received at the other end. These problems are forcing most healthcare providers to continue to use fax machines when the majority of other industries replaced them with digital communication technologies over a decade ago.

In the spirit of co-production, the Agency is adopting a model that will hold it to account to the community and deliver the correct outcomes.

The program will be governed by external Senior Responsible Owners – Dr Nathan Pinskier, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee on eHealth and Practice Systems, Dr Mal Thatcher, CEO eHealth Queensland, and Ms Fiona Panagoulias as a community representative. These people are not part of the Agency itself, but 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.

"I am on the record as stating that 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," said Dr Pinskier.

"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 and I thank the Digital Health Agency and its CEO Tim Kelsey for listening to the sector and making this a high priority item."

Dr Thatcher stated, "I believe in the importance of having a secure messaging environment that allows seamless, secure and safe transfer of patient information between providers.

"Connecting healthcare is a key priority outlined in My Health, Queensland’s future: Advancing health 2026 vision and electronic messaging is a part of this.

"Queensland looks forward to working with the Australian Digital Health Agency and industry to progress this important work."

Ms Panagoulias hopes Australia will move quickly to deliver a modern health service that takes advantage of the opportunities technology offers patients and their carers. "We have an amazing health system in Australia," she said. "I've seen others in the world. We really must do our best to make it better."

Ms Panagoulias, Dr Thatcher and Dr Pinskier will be supported by a Program Board with technology industry, healthcare provider, primary health network, hospital and general practice representatives, as well as HealthDirect Australia. This group will ensure the program stays focussed on the benefits to patients and providers, and prevent the program from becoming a purely technology project.

The Agency is working in partnership with the medical software industry to achieve a better experience for system users.

President of the Medical Software Industry Association Emma Hossack stated that, "Members of the Medical Software Industry Association have been willing and able to make this happen for some time, with a number of messaging companies already carrying out test exchanges. However, without addressing the other obstacles, like terminology and identifiers, as well as involving parties like the clinical information systems, success would not be possible. Tim Kelsey is seeing digital health as a digital ecosystem and with this fresh new approach, we are optimistic that past obstacles will be overcome."

The objective of the program is to achieve a trustworthy, seamless process for a message to flow securely from one provider to another; irrespective of the technology platform they are using, the organisation they work for, the other provider they are communicating with, or the home State or Territory of the patient – to create a better experience for healthcare professionals and patients and, ultimately, safer, higher quality care.


Media contact:

Alison Sweeney
Senior Communications and Media Officer

Phone: 02 8298 2669
Mobile: 0414 187 350
Twitter: @AuDigitalHealth