Secure clinical communications are coming

Have you heard about those great new fax machines that have just come out? No, neither have we!

Faxes are widely regarded as a technological dead end, and one of the few places you’ll see one these days is in a doctor’s office. But they’re not just unfashionable, they’re inherently insecure and unsafe. There has to be a better way to communicate.

Why are we still using faxes?

So why is the healthcare sector still so heavily reliant on this antiquated, flawed technology? Secure electronic messaging in the Australian healthcare system is currently plagued by interoperability issues that arise from a lack of common standards in existing vendor solutions. These interoperability problems are further compounded by the absence of a roadmap to embrace emerging markets and technologies.

A strategic priority

Establishing seamless and secure messaging in Australian health care is one of the seven major priorities described in the National Digital Health Strategy, which proclaims that

“Every healthcare provider will have the ability to communicate with other professionals and their patients via secure digital channels by 2022.”

To implement this vision, the Australian Digital Health Agency is pursuing technical and commercial solutions to the problems sketched above. Message conformance profiles can be tightened, and agreements can be reached on payload standards, for example. These solutions will be tested in the marketplace, with different consortia implementing different parts of the proposed solutions, and clinicians judging the success of these efforts.

Live tests are underway

One consortium, led by Healthlink, is testing referrals from GPs to specialist healthcare providers in a manner that could be scaled to a national level. Five different general practices using Medical Director will message five specialist groups using Genie and Best Practice software, via the ReferralNet and Argus and messaging systems.

Another consortium, led by Telstra, is testing sending discharge summaries from hospitals to healthcare practitioners, once again in a manner that could be scaled nationally.

The technical work and projects are due for completion by June 2018, at which time we expect to have seamless secure messaging between the participating messaging vendors and clinical information systems, and any other software organisations involved in our technical working groups. So the day is rapidly approaching when clinicians will finally be able to discard their lumbering, inefficient and unsafe fax machines.