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Secure messaging

Ensuring the safe, seamless and secure exchange of clinical information between healthcare providers.

Additional information

Secure messaging vs email

Secure messaging offers security, auditability and privacy. The privacy and security risks of using unsecured or unencrypted email may include:

  • Email can easily be sent to the wrong recipient
  • Email is often accessed on portable devices, such as smart phones, tablets and laptops, which are easily lost or stolen
  • Email can be forwarded or changed without the knowledge or consent of the original sender
  • Email is vulnerable to interception.

Additionally, secure messaging offers the ability to be fully integrated with clinical software. This allows for automation in some administrative tasks for practice staff and doctors.

What is Secure Message Delivery (SMD)?

Secure Message Delivery (SMD) is a set of specifications that defines an approach to digital health communication using widely supported IT industry standards.

The SMD specifications support the secure delivery of messages containing clinical documents and/or other information between healthcare organisations, either directly or through one or more messaging service providers.

How does secure messaging work?

For your practice to send and receive secure messages, you’ll need to have installed a conformant clinical information system and be registered with one or more secure messaging providers. The process below gives you a simple overview:

  • Step 1: The sending organisation creates an electronic message addressed to a service or practitioner, using an address book from within their clinical information system or an external service directory.
  • Step 2: The message is encrypted and passed through the sender’s secure messaging provider to the receiver’s secure messaging provider.
  • Step 3: The receiver’s secure messaging provider receives the message on behalf of the receiver, decrypts the message and passes it to the receiver’s clinical information system.
  • Step 4: The receiving clinical information system routes the received message to the intended service or practitioner and alerts the sender that the message has been successfully received.
What software can be used?

The first step in setting up secure messaging involves choosing an appropriate provider compatible with your conformant clinical information system. See the downloadable Secure Messaging Implementation Guide for further guidance and a list of criteria for selecting a provider, including hardware and clinical software compatibility, fees and charges and training support. 

Once registered, the system set-up/commissioning process will vary depending on the chosen system and your existing technical environment.

The establishment process may involve: 

  • Remote software installation and configuration by the secure message provider 
  • Access via a web-based portal that requires no local software installation.
Specific equipment or internet requirements

Secure messaging systems are designed to work alongside existing clinical information systems, so additional equipment or software shouldn’t be required beyond that supplied by your provider. 

A fast and reliable internet connection will support you sending and receiving secure messages. Most ADSL2 and NBN connections will suffice, but it’s recommended your practice select a plan with unlimited data and mobile internet as a backup in the instance of internet outages. 

Secure messaging research

Download the Safety and Quality Benefits of Secure Messaging (PDF, 3.55 MB) derived from a review undertaken by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, on our behalf.

What is secure messaging?

The need for healthcare providers to connect to each other safely and securely is greater than ever.

Secure messaging is a core foundational capability required to enable interoperability and safe, seamless, secure, and confidential information sharing across all healthcare providers.

Secure messaging supports the delivery of messages containing clinical documents and/or other information between healthcare organisations, sent either directly or through one or more secure messaging providers.

The use of post, fax and email to share patient and clinical information puts it at risk.

What are the benefits?

Healthcare providers may benefit through: 

  • Improved timeliness for the sending and receipt of referrals and clinical information
  • Improved clinical decisions due to the right information being available at the point of care
  • Access to a broader range of referring practitioners
  • Streamlined administration due to reduction in paper-based processes
  • Improved coordination of care as a result of improved communication between healthcare providers
  • Confidence in privacy and security of transmitted patient data
  • Improved traceability and tracking of information for audit purposes.

Patients may benefit through: 

  • Patient data being appropriately and securely managed
  • A reduced need to retell the same information
  • Confidential patient correspondence only being seen by treating clinicians
  • Improved clinical decisions due to the right information being available at the point of care
  • A more streamlined patient experience overall.

Your practice managers may benefit through:

  • A single channel through which referrals and correspondence are sent or received
  • Reduced overheads and more cost-effective delivery of service from reduced use of paper correspondence and postage costs
  • Improved coordination of care and service integration
  • Reduction in clerical error rates through reduced manual data collection
  • Improved practice efficiency from reduction in scanning and faxing.

Why implement secure messaging?

The exact specifics of what your practice can receive through secure messaging will be dependent on your clinical information system. However, most systems allow you to send or receive referrals, specialist reports, pathology results, radiology results, hospital discharge summaries and allied health consultation reports. 

Secure messaging eliminates the need for re-keying or transcribing, integrates more efficiently into clinical workflows, provides a single channel for correspondence and enables an audit trail of successful delivery. Additionally, secure messaging provides time and cost savings through integration with clinical software, automation of tasks and postage cost savings.

An economic analysis undertaken as part of the development of the National Digital Health Strategy has estimated the gross economic benefit of secure messaging could be around $2 billion over four years and more than $9 billion over 10 years.