Feds open e-health test centre

The uptake of information technology within the health sector will increase dramatically within the next four to five years, according to the Health Insurance Commission (HIC).

Dr Andrew Parkes, general manager e-business for the commission, concedes investment in IT is not high within the industry, but says it is turning around gradually.

"The uptake of IT has been sporadic [but this is due to] there not being many worthwhile applications around that offer doctors real value-add."

Aiming to encourage that uptake, the HIC -- the government authority responsible for administering major health projects such as Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme -- has opened an e-Health Technology Centre in the ACT that will test and showcase emerging e-health technology.

In order to simulate realistic operating environments within the sector, the centre uses a range of technology platforms and has replicated health environments, such as a doctor's surgery, pharmacy, hospital discharge, pathology lab, Medicare office and nursing home.

"It takes time to access information due to the different hardware and software used by people within the sector. This centre will test applications to make sure the computer configuration used works well by testing the impact the technology has on the program's performance."

Several applications are being developed and tested at the centre, with all expected to be up and running within the next 12 months using public key infrastructure (PKI).

Examples of projects include software that enables secure access for health care practitioners to the Australian Organ Donor register, immunisation register, Medicare claims and pharmacy claims.

Parkes said the immunisation register is up and running using a user ID and password system. The digital certificate security system is yet to come on board.

"We are also working with software developers on other applications, such as general practitioners electronically sending patient referrals to specialists, and hospital discharge information being sent to doctors, both using PKI."

Parkes believes PKI will strengthen the security and privacy policies within industry organisations.

"The policy of who accesses what information will not change [within the organisation]. But PKI will strengthen and enforce the policy so the recipient, for example, will know if the correspondence has been fiddled with."

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