ACT links up mental health providers

Coinciding with the rejuvenated push forward of the ACT's Health Information Networking project -- an initiative to provide an electronic backbone to coordinate the capital's health care system -- a project linking mental health service providers is set to go live in June.

In a contract worth more than half a million dollars, the ACT Department of Health, Housing and Community Care is working with health software provider Working Systems to implement an Internet-based mental health data system.

The Canberra Hospital's existing in-house Mental Health Information System (Mhagic) is the basis for the project. The Canberra and Calvary hospitals primarily provide the capital's mental health services.

Ian Bull, the departmental information officer said the aim of the project is to link all public government mental health services and to meet the requirements of the national mental health development plan.

Vikas David, project manager for Working Systems, said the original Delphi 3-based system, with a customised database, will be moved to multi-tier architecture.

"We will be reusing a lot of existing code, but the architecture will be different."

Once the commonwealth-funded project is complete, staff will also be able to record client data securely on laptops and automatically synchronise to the Mhagic database, while in the field.

David said field staff will be able to run the same functionality on their laptops and store updated information in local XML files, which can be synced to the system on return to the office. He said PDA functionality is not supported at the moment.

The new system will also be embedded with an e-switch messaging technology between the department and participating hospitals, enabling transparent maintenance of a system-wide unique patient identifier, the Patient Master Index (PMI), via a 'broadcast model'.

The PMI is used by all hospitals and community care organisations. In the future it is anticipated other health care providers will link up to the database.

Mathew Cherian, CEO for Working Systems, said the "customer had a clear idea of what was needed". Some of the biggest challenges for the project were preserving core functionality whilst migrating the system and the tight deployment schedule, he said.

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