Secure network links doctors, hospitals

The movement of information between hospitals and GPs in Australia can now occur securely online following the accreditation of the Health Insurance Commission's (HIC) Health eSignature Authority with the Commonwealth Government's Gatekeeper status.

The program, coordinated by The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne and involving 20 surgeries in tbe southeast, enables the electronic sharing of admission and discharge information between general practitioners and hospitals.

The HIC, a Government authority responsible for administering major health projects such as Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, recently opened an e-Health Technology Centre in the ACT aimed at testing emerging e-health technology.

Several applications relying on PKI are currently being developed and tested at the centre. They are now expected to be operational within the next 12 months.

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

The authority, which is wholly owned by the HIC and was established to facilitate the introduction of PKI, is backed by Baltimore Technologies, which will supply digital certificates to the authority.

It will receive applications from organisations and professionals within the Australian healthcare sector, authenticate the identity of the prospective individual or location and submit the requests to Baltimore for certificate issue.

"It has long been acknowledged that our current paper-based health system does not enable efficient communication. We have been long hampered by our need to assure high security standards for the transfer of medical information between health professionals," said the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, Dr Michael Wooldridge at the launch.

Dr Andrew Parkes, general manager of e-business for HIC said: "I believe that over time PKI will become as important to doctors as a stethoscope is today. The social and financial benefits of effective and secure communications will be enormous."

"PKI will strengthen the security and privacy policies within the industry's organisations."

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