Getting identities right in clinical communications

Australia already has a number of competing clinical messaging service providers that are by nature competitive and do not natively share information with each other. Since they have their own directories for identifying individual providers, a single individual might be Clark Kent on one network, and Superman on another.

To resolve these competing methods of identifying individuals, the Agency has been working with industry to develop a profile that provides a consistent way to search for provider information and share it across messaging service providers. In a nutshell, that means that a single search will be able to uniquely identify healthcare providers, no matter what underlying messaging provider they’re using. Two proof of concept implementation projects are in progress which will ensure that this type of federated search for provider identity information works in the real world.

Real world testing

These projects were described in our November issue. A Telstra-led consortium is working on hospital to GP messaging in the form of discharge summaries. And a HealthLink-led consortium is working on GP to specialist messaging in the form of referrals. Both projects are due to be completed at the end of March.

Incidentally, both the Telstra and HealthLink consortia are working to extend secure messaging to the allied health sector. The Telstra project will deliver an allied health report back to the referrer (usually a hospital), and the Healthlink project will deliver referrals from GPs to allied health providers. This is one aspect of the increasing momentum in digital health in the allied health sector.

Secure messaging is an interoperability issue

Seen through a different lens, we can view the problem of resolving competing directory implementations as an interoperability problem, even though it is not normally framed as such. In this respect the Australian digital health system is reminiscent of the US health system. The US health system is dominated by competing networks of provider organisations, just as the Australian clinical secure messaging market is dominated by competing provider networks. As discussed elsewhere in this month’s #Share, digital health interoperability is a global issue, so this is yet another instance where participants in the Australian digital health scene can benefit from approaches taken and lessons learnt overseas.