The transfer of patient information between healthcare providers for better continuity of care is nothing new. This information has traditionally been transferred via face to face interaction, phone, fax, unsecure email or by postal mail. Some of these methods of communication have posed security and privacy risks, high costs (both financial and to the environment), and time delays. The advent of eHealth technologies to transmit patient information offers processes which are both secure and efficient.
eHealth initiatives currently include approaches that can be used as building blocks for interconnected care such as secure messaging (including eReferrals, eReports and eDischarge Summaries) and the Personally Controlled eHealth Record System (or ‘eHealth Record’). Secure messaging and the PCEHR offer ways for patient information to be electronically transmitted and shared securely. This can be direct from the GP’s clinical software which decreases the risks associated with more traditional methods such as information inaccuracies through poor transcribing or ineligible hand writing.
While both secure messaging and the eHealth record offer solutions for the transmission of patient data, they are dependent on technical factors that have to work to connect different systems. Getting the technical issues sorted out can delay the implementation and uptake of these initiatives.
Secure messaging between general practice and some specialists has been occurring in the ACT for over 2 years. Those involved have seen improvements in the quality of information exchanged. Experience tells us that not all messages are sent via secure messaging straight away, and it can take time for an organisation and their staff to become comfortable with this new way of communicating with their colleagues.
Improved technologies enabling secure messaging to and from allied health clinicians have recently become available. ACTML is currently working with a small number of allied health professionals to guide them through the possibilities that secure messaging has to offer. This includes being able to securely receive electronic referrals that are generated directly from the general practice software. Allied health clinicians are enthusiastic about the potential this presents in terms of providing better patient information. GPs can generate these referrals from their clinical software systems with the click of a button.
The eHealth Record is not intended to replace the clinical records that are currently held by healthcare providers. What it does do is provide a central place where a patient’s most important health information can be shared with other providers that need to access it. For example this technology enables hospital medical staff or GPs on the other side of the country to access a health summary which has obvious benefits for patients and clinicians alike. The benefits are real.