Specialist letters go electronic in south-east Melbourne

A pilot project to increase the use of electronic messaging to send specialist letters to GPs from Southern Health Outpatients clinics has seen electronic distribution grow from zero to around 30 per cent over the last year.

The project, which began in September 2011 and initially involved 15 general practices, has now become part of normal practice, according to Paul Macdonald, eHealth strategy and stakeholder engagement manager for the South Eastern Melbourne Medicare Local (SEMML).

The project involves Southern Health, medical transcription service OzeScribe, secure messaging provider Global Health and SEMML's founding member, Dandenong Casey General Practice Association (DCGPA).

“The project allows specialists’ letters, transcribed by OzeScribe medical transcription services, to be sent electronically through OzeScribe’s OzePost service,” Mr Macdonald said.

“OzePost uses Global Health’s ReferralNet secure messaging system to send encrypted, HL7 messages that can be imported directly into patient records for GPs using any of the leading GP clinical information systems.”

The service has been expanded to all practices interested in receiving Outpatients letters electronically. Other sites sending by OzePost include Royal Children’s Hospital, Cabrini Health, Skin Cancer Foundation Victoria, Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre, and approximately 50 private specialist clinics in Melbourne including departments at Royal Melbourne Hospital. Austin Health is also expected to start sending electronically soon.

“Any practice that already has ReferralNet installed does not need to register for OzePost as they will be automatically receiving their Outpatients letters electronically from Southern Health,” Mr Macdonald said. “There is capacity for 100 per cent of computerised practices within SEMML to receive Southern Health Outpatients letters electronically via OzePost and ReferralNet.”

He said that like any project involving technology, an number of technical issues had to be overcome, and the process highlighted the need for all secure messaging and clinical information system software developers to collaborate on the development and implementation of uniform standards for the capturing and transfer of health information.

“The future implications of the announcement of the Secure Message eXchange (SMX) agreement between HealthLink, DCA's Argus and Global Health is likely to see GPs increasing their use of secure messaging products to send information into other services in both the public and private sectors,” he said.

Clinicians are pleased with the service. Dr Peter Neil, an obstetrician gynaecologist at Southern Health, described the service as “excellent, easy to use, accurate, but best of all very fast”.

“Love the way I can edit the letters online,” Dr Neil said. “I finally have confidence GPs and referring doctors will get timely communication from our hospital.”

Mr Macdonald said the aspect of the project receiving the most praise from clinicians has been the reduction in the number of days to deliver patient letters to GPs. “There is scope to improve the turnaround of letters even further,” he said.

An evaluation of the project is underway including a survey of the original pilot practices and Southern Health specialists. Mr Macdonald said the project could serve as a template for any Medicare Local or area health service looking to improve electronic distribution of specialist letters.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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