Delivering Australia's E-Health Foundations

For some years now, there has been more promise from e-health than results on the ground. One of the reasons has been that the foundations of a linked, efficiently communicating healthcare system have not been put in place in a coordinated fashion on a national scale. The barriers to developing these building blocks have been many, which is why Australian Health Ministers agreed to give the task to an organisation designed and funded to do so.

The National E-Health Transition Authority Limited (NEHTA) was established on July 5th, 2005 as a collaborative enterprise by the Australian Federal, State and Territory governments, to identify and develop the necessary foundations for e-health.

With these building blocks in place, healthcare professionals will be well on the way to quickly and securely exchanging standard clinical information – information such as hospital discharge summaries, referrals and other priority health communications. These foundations will also ensure that information exchange can occur regardless of the software used by either the sending or receiving clinician. Ultimately, healthcare professionals will also be able to access any participating individual’s integrated health record.

The potential benefits of e-health systems across the national health sector are enormous and include:

  • Improving the quality of healthcare services, allowing clinicians to more easily access accurate and complete information about their patients.
  • Streamlining the care of people with long term illness, who need to be looked after by many different health professionals, by enabling seamless handovers of care through for example electronic referrals and discharge summaries.
  • Improving clinical and administrative efficiency, by standardising certain types of healthcare information to be recorded in electronic systems; uniquely identifying patients, healthcare providers and medical products; and reforming the purchasing process for medical products.

All while maintaining high standards of patient privacy and information security.

The following outlines key aspects of NEHTA’s work, which is being undertaken in consultation with healthcare providers, consumers, the health IT industry and government agencies.

Standard clinical information

NEHTA has worked extensively with clinicians to specify the clinical data to appear in the electronic version of healthcare communications. Templates for trial are in the process of being developed with hospital discharge summaries and referrals being trialled in the near future.

Standard clinical terms

The average encounter with a healthcare professional generates a large amount of clinical information - for example the diagnosis, treatment procedure and prescribed medication. The practitioner must choose from a huge number of ways and names to describe what they hear, see, prescribe or decide to do. When this information is sent to other practitioners – e.g. the pathologist, pharmacist, home nurse or specialist, each of whom may use different terms to describe the same thing – misunderstandings can occur.

NEHTA has evaluated various options to standardise the clinical terms used by systems within healthcare, and determined that SNOMED Clinical Terms (CT) should be adopted by e-health systems nationally. NEHTA has entered into an arrangement to make SNOMED CT available for use free of charge in health information software products used in Australia. Organisations who are interested in gaining free access to SNOMED CT for use in Australia should register their interest with NEHTA by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

NEHTA is working to extend SNOMED CT to suit the specific needs of the Australian healthcare environment and the practices of local health professionals.

Identifying healthcare providers

To significantly reduce the possibility of clinical documents being sent to the wrong health practitioner, a means of identifying the 400,000 healthcare providers in Australia is being established by NEHTA. A national healthcare provider identification system will be rolled out from late 2007.

Accurately identifying individuals

Similarly, accurately identifying individual patients will significantly reduce the possibility of clinical information being assigned to the wrong patient. A national individual health identification system is currently under development by NEHTA, and a privacy assessment process has commenced. Healthcare identifiers for individuals are also anticipated to be available from late 2007.

Public health supply chain

NEHTA has obtained the agreement of all Australian governments to a National Product Catalogue. This allows public health institutions in all States and Territories to obtain essential information about the medicines, medical devices and healthcare products they use, from the one electronic source. The National Product Catalogue will also hold information about non-medical products, such as office supplies and food items, becoming the source of purchasing information in the public health system.

Shared electronic health records

Ultimately, NEHTA’s work will lay the foundations for individuals to share selected health information with clinicians – wherever and whenever required, and in way that is secure and maintains privacy.

Further information on NEHTA’s overall work program can be found at www.nehta.gov.au .

 

Posted in Australian eHealth

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