The Victorian state government is pushing ahead with plans to implement electronic referral functionality within the state's medical sector.
This week the state's Department of Human Services -- which is responsible for health and other community services -- called for an external consultant to develop a business case evaluating current e-referral activities in Victoria and examining the path forward towards universal use of e-referral in the state.
The business case will particularly examine the costs and benefits to the state if e-referral was to implemented as recommended by DHS's e-Referral Architecture Framework -- a key document developed in mid-2006 in consultation with industry.
E-referral sees referral requests (for example, for specialist care) transferred electronically between medical groups in both the public and private sectors, as opposed to through more traditional means such as paper.
According to DHS's Web site, e-referral is being undertaken in some agencies and hospitals throughout Victoria -- with pockets having well-established, "best practice" traditions in the area.
The department also sees potential for e-referral outside the medical sector. "The scope of the e-Referral project is broader than just the health sector, including the transmission of referrals related to housing, child protection, family services, juvenile justice and other referrals for provision of welfare services," the department wrote in tender documents. "A referral can be exchanged in these 'non-health' domains with the same purpose."
DHS will appoint an external consultant to develop the e-referral business case by early July, with the report to be delivered by late October this year.
DHS's vision for e-referral sees both technology systems and standards heavily involved.
For example, the department's proposed e-referral architecture uses a service-oriented architecture (SOA) approach, which DHS describes as meaning that "different components or services can be plugged in to provide functionality".
SOA refers to a technology environment where end-user services can be disassociated from their underlying platforms and data is dissociated from the processes acting on it.
"The solution includes an electronic gateway that provides a technology-independent and open, standards-based solution using the Internet, particularly Web services, for communication," the department wrote in tender documents. "This design is scalable and distributed, so that when implemented with appropriate support and maintenance, it will give high availability."
Existing medical client management systems from within DHS and non-government organisations will connect into the e-referral architecture.
The consultants developing the aforementioned business case will need to take notice of state Office of the CIO guidelines for business case preparation, in addition to National e-Health Transition Authority papers and standards, and Standards Australia standards for electronic interchange of information in the healthcare sector.
DHS's technology operations are headed up by the department's chief information officer Andrew Howard, who has been in the role for some nine months.