The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) has been working on new standards for secure messaging, coming to an agreement with industry and government on what this should look like.
"The Australian Digital Health Agency has been working with industry and governments over a number of years to achieve interoperable secure messaging across different systems -- necessary to accelerate use of electronic messaging over fax machines and paper transmission," the agency responsible for My Health Record wrote.
The standards [PDF] will be mandatory for the future procurement of applicable systems, with the ADHA saying the success of the Secure Messaging Program will play an imperative role in achieving the Australian National Digital Health Strategy's key priorities for 2022.
The 2019-22 strategy has seven key priorities: To have health information available whenever and wherever it is needed; allow for health information to be exchanged securely; for that health information to be comprised of high-quality data with a commonly understood meaning; better availability and access to prescriptions and medicines information; digitally-enabled models of care; a workforce that uses digital health technologies to deliver health and care; and a "thriving digital health industry delivering world class innovation".
"Many people across industry, governments, and peak associations have been working with us since our first meeting in December 2016 to solve what some were describing as an intractable problem," said former COO and soon to-be interim CEO of the ADHA Bettina McMahon.
"We've had quiet confidence that we could co-produce specifications and standards with industry and professionals, try them out in early implementations, and get to a point where Australia's customers of these systems would require their use.
"We're now at that point -- with governments confirming that future procurements will reference the standards as mandatory requirements."
In addition to reducing the use of paper correspondence, the ADHA said secure messaging will result in the secure exchange of clinical information, which it hopes will prevent the unauthorised interception of its content.
It believes this is the best way for confidential patient correspondence to only be seen by treating clinicians.
Secure messaging, ADHA said, will also see notification of message delivery. It also has the potential, the agency said, to improve the timeliness of receipt of clinical information, and therefore the quality of care provided
"Over time as software vendors enhance their digital health functionality, consolidation of information in clinical software can be achieved," it added.
"Secure Messaging is a core foundational capability required to enable interoperable, safe, seamless, secure, and confidential information sharing across all healthcare providers and consumers. Reliable, secure provider-to provider communication is a key component of digitally enabled, integrated and coordinated care across the Australian healthcare sector.
See also: Electronic health records: A cheat sheet for professionals (TechRepublic)
As detailed in the communique [PDF] from the December meeting on the ADHA's national scaling approach, the plan is to develop a secure messaging governance framework, develop secure messaging use cases, develop standards and a standards framework, implement a federated directory solution, develop a trust framework, support change and adoption across the health sector, and develop a framework of levers.
"There is work underway on a standards framework, trust framework and federated directory solution which is marvellous," Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA) CEO Emma Hossack added.
"We have consensus that these will be developed collaboratively and in keeping with the broader digital health interoperability approach. Whilst this can't be rushed, we are optimistic that future development will occur through agreed standards, validation and conformance which is good news for all Australians using the health system."
The ADHA said it would consult on a suitable use case and timeframe by April 2020.
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