The Unique Healthcare Identification Services

Drivers For Change

Community expectations about the delivery of healthcare in Australia are increasing with technological advances, economic pressures and changes in the nature of health and illnesses. Governments and other participants in the health sector recognise that information and communication technologies create opportunities to improve patient care and give consumers more control over healthcare decisions that affect them. The key to this opportunity is the potential of technology to provide accurate healthcare information. In response to these expectations, NEHTA was established by the Australian Commonwealth, State and Territory governments to develop better ways of electronically managing and securely exchanging health information to achieve these positive outcomes.

The Need For Unique Identification

Unique individual identification is recognised as a critical success factor for healthcare reform and fundamental to establishing the foundations for electronic or e-health. Unique identification is about providing accurate healthcare information by ensuring the correct information is related to the right individual and the right healthcare provider every time.

In a more integrated healthcare environment, unique identification is critical, and quite complex. Patient care is generally shared across the care continuum, between healthcare providers from primary, secondary, tertiary, rehabilitative and other sectors such as aged care, mental health and allied health sectors. Population mobility and multiple points of access to the healthcare system lead to the accumulation of the healthcare individual’s related data in a variety of fragmented, unrelated repositories. Currently there is no single method of, or standard for, consistently and uniquely identifying a patient across this continuum of care, which reduces the probability of previous care data being matched to a patient’s current status. The development of a national unique healthcare identification service is underway to address this issue. It will facilitate the flow of information about healthcare individuals and services across functional, jurisdictional, administrative and professional boundaries and ensure that no matter where healthcare is being received, an individual’s healthcare information is being correctly assigned to them.

What Are The Unique Healthcare Identification Services?

The Unique Healthcare Identification Services (UHI Services) is the system which will confidently and uniquely identify the people and organisations involved in healthcare across Australia.

The services are made up of two separate identification services; the Healthcare Provider Identification (HPI) Service and the Individual Healthcare Identification (IHI) Service.

The HPI Service will uniquely identify healthcare providers, the workplace organisation(s), e.g. hospitals, and their locations. This information will also be used to provide a national healthcare provider directory service.

The IHI Service will accurately identify individuals for healthcare purposes. There will be no clinical information held with the identifiers.

The identifiers themselves will comprise of a sixteen digit ISO standard number with an associated record of demographic information, such as name and date of birth, for identification and communication purposes.

Both healthcare providers and healthcare individuals will have access to the information contained in their identifiers.

Protecting Privacy

The trend towards greater sharing of health information is both inevitable and desirable, but must take place within an agreed privacy framework.

From the outset, NEHTA has recognised privacy as an issue of great concern – particularly in relation to the collection and handling of personal and health information. To manage this effectively, NEHTA has applied a range of privacy management strategies to address risks and enhance privacy protections.

A key component of this approach will be a rigorous privacy impact assessment to assess the privacy implications of the IHI, and identify measures to manage them. These measures will ensure personal information is collected and handled responsibly, consistent with individuals’ expectations, and will form part of NEHTA's ongoing privacy management.

The UHI Services will comply with legislation such as the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988, which regulates how personal information is collected and handled. Arrangements will be put in place to ensure accountability and transparency, and to handle complaints from individuals.

An overview of our position on privacy is available in the NEHTA's Approach to Privacy publication. Further, we have specifically addressed privacy in the context of unique healthcare identifiers in the document Privacy Blueprint for Identifiers. Both of these publications are available on the NEHTA website.

Information Access And Security

Like privacy, issues relating to information access and security are critical for the UHI Services. Access to the UHI Services will be controlled and constantly monitored, with access only available upon appropriate authentication and authorisation. The aim of NEHTA's User Authentication is to ensure the most robust system for authentication is implemented for e-health.

Time Frames

The UHI Services are planned to launch with limited operations from mid-2008 and full functionality is planned for the end of 2009.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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