Secure message exchange market opens up
Healthcare providers using secure electronic messaging services will now be able to communicate more easily following the announcement of a collaborative agreement between three leading service providers.
Global Health, HealthLink and DCA, which service the industry with the ReferralNet, HealthLink and Argus products respectively, have formed Secure Message eXchange (SMX) to open up secure messaging channels to each other's customers. The three companies claim to service over 85 per cent of the current market.
The arrangement will be similar to that which exists in the mobile phone industry, in which the company responsible for the outgoing communication pays a wholesale transaction charge to the organisation managing delivery to the end point.
The collaboration is aimed at overcoming one of the main stumbling blocks to wider use of secure message exchange, as until now users could only send and receive messages from practitioners using the same product.
The partners said in a statement that the basis for the exchange is the recently gazetted Secure Message Delivery (SMD) standard. Each vendor can focus on developing to the standard, which makes it easier to agree the technical integration details, they said.
They plan to commence a controlled release within the next three months. HealthLink's head of operations for Australia and New Zealand, Geoffrey Sayer, said a number of technical issues are being worked through before a general release, including end to end messaging, ensuring payloads are harmonised, and defining the role of public key infrastructure (PKI) and the end point location service (ELS) “so that the transition infrastructure is able to support the processes within the specifications of SMD".
Dr Sayer said messaging service providers would not have to do integration work with each separate clinical software vendor.
“As long as one of the SMX partners is at each end of the transaction it will work, although I expect that we will all integrate with many in common,” he said.
Current users of the electronic messaging services will not need to do anything different through their clinical software. “Nothing is different,” Dr Sayer said. “That is part of the benefit.”
As each service has its own user directory, allowing specialists for instance to send letters to GPs also using the service, work will be done to relate each directory to each other and through the ELS. “Each organisation will still maintain their own until a national directory is really available,” he said.
Membership of the SMX will be open to other software companies that have systems based on the SMD specification, are prepared to provide service levels of support, work on delivering sustainable approaches around infrastructure and only exchange messages based on agreed standards.
Andrew McIntyre, managing director of the Medical-Objects secure messaging system, said his company would consider taking part in a network only when the right infrastructure was in place.
"From what I gather, this is a management-level agreement, and the devil is in the technical details, which have not been worked out," Dr McIntyre said.
"We will join a network when the infrastructure like NASH and ELS and payload compliance makes this a safe reality. At the moment it's not."
He said Medical-Objects already has an agreement to interoperate with DCA when the infrastructure exists to support it in a safe, scaleable way.
The SMX partners said the initiative was something the industry had been working towards for a number of years, but prior to the adoption of the SMD specification, each different vendor had proprietary methods for packaging and addressing documents sent within their network.
“This meant that exchanging messages between carriers was not easily achievable without potentially 're-packaging' the message payload, which would have compromised confidentiality and privacy,” the statement said. “This would have been an unacceptable risk for any of the carriers.”
The vendors have agreed to a wholesale cost per transaction, but each member has the discretion to decide how these costs are recovered from their respective customers.
“The hope is that this initiative will significantly increase the total volume of correspondence exchanged electronically which will drive transaction costs down. Ultimately, the market will determine the price.”
While the wholesale costs have been agreed, each vendor will set its own retail pricing structure.
The partners have also established a technical working group to develop interim steps to make SMX operational in the short term in line with SMD specifications, and are developing a roadmap for integration with the infrastructure being developed under the national eHealth records system.
Dr Sayer said the overall benefits of the agreement for clinicians will be the greater scope to exchange information with more sites than before.
“The SMX agreement also ensures there are improvements in the quality of messaging, accountability and the service levels around messaging vendors,” he said.
Posted in Australian eHealth