The ADHA wants to end the use of fax machines in Australian healthcare

Part of its plan to cease the use of the fax machine is to stand up a common platform for healthcare providers to communicate, with the agency offering $30,000 to each successfully pitched secure messaging service.

The Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) is on the hunt for providers to deliver a secure messaging facility for clinicians to use as part of its drive to eliminate paper-based messaging in healthcare.

In an expression of interest (EOI) document, the ADHA said that while parts of the Australian healthcare sector have adopted messaging services that are more advanced than the fax machine, they have generally been confined to those operating under the same service.

"This lack of interoperability has inhibited the uptake of secure messaging across the sector," it wrote.

The ADHA began working with two industry consortia, led by Telstra Health and HealthLink, to deliver proof-of-concept implementations of "enhanced functionality that resolves issues which have to date constrained the adoption of secure messaging technology in Australia" since 2017.

"In light of these successful proofs-of-concept, the Agency wishes to promote and accelerate the widespread adoption of this enhanced functionality within clinical information systems and secure messaging systems in Australia," it said.

The ADHA has separated its offer into two parts, focusing on different types of software packages. The first, an Applicable Clinical Information System (ACIS), that the ADHA has described as a clinical information system, includes practice management systems or electronic medical record systems that send and receive messages over secure messaging infrastructure to other clinical information systems for the purpose of providing clinical care to patients.

The second, identified as an Applicable Secure Messaging System (ASMS), covers secure messaging systems that allow for the exchange of messages between clinical information systems, maintain a provider directory and deliver messages, and expose provider directory services, to other secure messaging systems.

To qualify for the program, a provider must have its ACIS or ASMS service in place in at least two healthcare provider sites in Australia.

Each successfully pitched system will be given AU$30,000 to implement the service -- the ADHA has not said how many suppliers it could afford to bring into the program.

"Two versions of what is substantively the same software package would not be considered distinct and therefore would not both be eligible for the offer," the EOI explains.

A participating organisation, the ADHA said, would be required to issue a general release of an enhanced version of their software containing the specified technical capabilities by May 15, 2020.

The move follows the ADHA in July last year publishing Australia's National Digital Health Strategy, which included the goal of ensuring every healthcare provider had the ability to communicate with other professionals and their patients via secure digital channels, to thereby end dependence on paper-based correspondence and the fax machine or post, by 2022.

Addressing the National Press Club in May last year, the ADHA chief executive Tim Kelsey said the 2019 goal for his agency was for every registered clinician to be provided with a secure means of communicating digitally with their colleagues without "resorting to paper or the dreaded fax machine".

Ahead of the strategy's release, Kelsey detailed three key areas for focus, saying they would be centred on participation, empowering people to take more control of their health and care; collaboration, which will require the co-design of services; and innovation.

"MHR is a part of the solution; it will not solve all the information challenges of modern Australian healthcare, but it is an important step forward ... one of the key digital health basics," he said. "If the world is full of faxes, it will not be full of precision medicines -- let's get the digital basics right."

The ADHA is the agency responsible for oversight of the bungled My Health Record.

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