Passing the digital health baton with confidence and certainty

By Jane Allman
Friday, 25 September, 2020

Passing the digital health baton with confidence and certainty

Accurate details of healthcare providers and services are key to ensuring efficient and high-quality care pathways for patients. Out-of-date information means that patients’ medical documents and information cannot be sent from one healthcare provider to another, blocking the flow of the patient’s care journey. Disruption to the flow of patient information from one service provider to another results in a time-consuming search for correct details — a frustrating and costly undertaking for busy healthcare practices.

Across Australia’s healthcare services, changes to staff and location occur on a regular basis. Practitioners move to other practices; new practitioners come on board; practices offer additional services or open up in new suburbs. But what is the process for ensuring the healthcare market hears about these changes?

Until now, the process has involved forms — 15 to 20 — all requiring the same information to be completed and sent to separate organisations — Medicare, GP practices, public health services, health service directories and so on. Unsurprisingly, not everyone gets the memo.

Recognising the need for secure and immediate communication between healthcare providers — in addition to the problem of inaccurate addressing — the Australian Digital Health Agency has developed the Service Registration Assistant (SRA) — a digital tool that allows healthcare providers to update the whole network in just one place when staff or contact details change. The updated contact information is immediately passed on to all authorised parties.

Currently in the evaluation phase, the SRA can reduce paperwork, keep healthcare practice details accurate and improve patient outcomes and experiences. It offers immediate benefits for healthcare organisations by reducing the burden of needing to complete the same details across many different forms.

“SRA is a tool that allows organisations to publish information about themselves for others to access in a valid and consistent way,” Agency Program Manager Neeraj Maharaj said.

“To ensure accuracy and consistency, healthcare practices are best placed to update and publish their own information.

“The tool eliminates the need for hundreds of directories around the country to manually keep their directories up to date. The SRA maintains an authoritative version of the healthcare service and practitioner details in external services such as secure messaging provider directories, hospital directories, clinical pathway directories, referral directories and the National Health Service Directory (NHSD),” Maharaj explained.

The Agency and its partners, the Northern NSW Local Health District (the LHD) and Healthy North Coast (deliverers of the North Coast Primary Health Network program), recently released initial results from the SRA proof-of-concept trials, which demonstrated significant improvements in supporting electronic communications between healthcare providers.

Findings from proof-of-concept trials reveal that 48 healthcare services (HCS) have published their details to the LHD across 60 transactions (12 healthcare services have had more than one update):

  • 8% (5) of HCS didn’t exist in the address book and were required to be added;
  • 87% (52) of existing HCS required updates; and
  • only 5% (3) of HCS required no change.

In addition, 320 practitioner record updates have been published to the LHD resulting in the following updates to their address book:

  • 18% (57) of practitioners didn’t exist in the address book and had to be added;
  • 78% (251) of existing practitioners required updates; and
  • only 4% (12) of practitioners required no change.

Clearly, the quantity of updates required in proof-of-concept trials reveals the omnipresent inaccuracies and inefficiencies of current systems.

Positive feedback

Feedback from the trials found that 75% of users saw value in the SRA. Benefits of improved data quality include reductions in practice manager and administration workloads, improved patient experiences and quality of care, cost reductions and improved efficiency across the healthcare sector.

Testing the tool in Northern NSW LHD revealed an increase in successful discharge summary delivery to patients’ GPs. For hospitals, having the most up-to-date contact information is essential to ensuring hospital discharge summaries get to the right person as quickly as possible.

Discharge summaries can include information about a patient’s assessment, treatment plan and progress notes from their hospital clinician, and a digital copy is sent via a secure service to the patient’s nominated GP. This helps the GP continue post-hospital care through follow-up appointments.

Prior to SRA, Northern NSW LHD administrators reported spending between two and eight hours maintaining address books each week. Relieving this burden will make an enormous difference to the people working in these roles, allowing them to focus their time on other work.

Data accuracy helps support a seamless and improved healthcare experience for patients, improving communication and trust between patients and their care providers.

Trials of the SRA uncovered that many GP practices were receiving messages for practitioners that were no longer at the practice. Notifying the necessary bodies to update their directories was resulting in increased workloads and diverting focus from patients. SRA will solve this problem, in addition to allowing practices to keep each other informed of new information, such as out-of-hours contact details or changes to practice operations.

A focus on partnership

SRA is a partnership between Australia’s Primary Health Networks, peak bodies such as the Australian Association of Practice Management and other providers of frontline health care. Building coalitions of understanding within the healthcare sector allows the tool to be the best that it can be.

SRA is a project under the Secure Messaging Program, a key priority in Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy. The aim of this priority is to end the dependence on fax machines and paper-based correspondence by empowering healthcare providers to communicate with other professionals and their patients via secure digital channels.

Image credit: ©

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