Northern Territory DHF funds development of Web Service secure messaging

Clinics in the Northern Territory have commenced rolling out a new secure messaging solution designed to improve their ability to connect to the Territory’s Shared Electronic Health Record (SEHR).

Dubbed the Web Services Messaging Application (WSMA), the technology has been released as an Application Programming Interface (API), which allows developers of clinical software to tightly integrate secure messaging functionality into their products, potentially removing the need for stand alone messaging software. Communicare Systems and Pen Computing Systems — both of whom develop software to service remote health clinics in the Northern Territory — have integrated WSMA into the latest versions of their software.

Due to an inherent lack of software compliance with existing technical e-health standards, most practices and healthcare facilities currently rely on several secure messaging solutions to communicate electronically. Most of these messaging products are developed, supported and rolled out by vendors dedicated to the task, with clinical software developers traditionally shunning the labour intensiveness of providing such services in addition to their core clinical products. As such, WSMA represents a departure from the secure messaging status quo in Australia.

As WSMA’s name implies, the solution uses Web Services technology to facilitate communication with remote systems, including the Northern Territory SEHR. Unlike the email based version of Argus that WSMA was commissioned to replace, WSMA allows for real time communication with both remote systems, and the software within which it is integrated. According to Brian Dunstan of Communicare Systems, this characteristic allows users to receive instant feedback from their software in the event of a transmission problem, dramatically reducing the amount of technical support his company is required to provide to keep communication channels in operation at each of Communicare Systems’ 27 sites throughout the Northern Territory.

Having already developed solutions using Web Services in the past — including an interface with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Red Book — John Johnson of Pen Computing Systems also praised the Web Services underpinnings of WSMA, saying such technology represented the future of electronic healthcare communication.

The development of the WSMA was funded by the Northern Territory Department of Health and Families (NT DHF) and undertaken by Diverse Systems Consulting, an independent software company from the Northern Territory. Development of the WSMA API commenced in July last year and was completed over a four month period. Due to constrained budgets and time frames, the API was crafted to be compatible with Microsoft Windows operating systems only, a platform that, while prevalent in remote clinics in the Northern Territory, is no longer ubiquitous in many parts of the health sector.

WSMA was built with reference to a draft version of NEHTA’s Clinical Document Delivery specification. While this specification has subsequently been superseded by the work of the Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA) and NEHTA through the eHealth PIP Working Group, NEHTA’s Industry Communications Manager, Marie Howarth has indicated that future versions of WSMA will be brought into line with the latest version of the specification, which is currently before Standards Australia.

“The next phase of development and implementation by Northern Territory Department of Health and Families will see WSMA upgraded to conform to the finalised national Secure Message Delivery (SMD) specification and integrated into NT DHF’s remaining remote health clinics’ information systems (PCIS) as well as the public hospitals’ clinical information systems. This implementation will enable participating health facilities to send information to the Northern Territory SEHR, electronic referrals from remote health centres to public hospitals, and electronic discharge summaries from public hospitals to remote health centres,” said Ms Howarth.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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