Health standards body ratifies online standard

Major step in supporting national health IT strategy

After three years of trials and discussion, the Health Information Standards Organisation (HISO) has formally ratified an online forms architecture technical specification to fast-track interoperability for the health sector.

Development of the standard has involved the leading IT companies in the local health sector. It was debated at length and has now emerged from a public consultation phase and formal ballot.

The HISO board ratified it last month.

The purpose of the specification is to allow healthcare organisations to develop and safely deploy new interactive online form applications, replacing the current paper-based or customised forms.

This will significantly reduce costs and the time taken to deploy such forms.

The health system is dependent on the exchange of large amounts of complex, sensitive information that is constantly transferred between health providers.

Using the new specification, providers will soon be able to refer their patients to any specialist or hospital, order a batch of pathology tests or radiology services online and send a prescription to a pharmacy.

Forms will contain information from the sender’s electronic medical record system and be securely transmitted to any recipient, also using a standards-based system.

This is expected to significantly reduce human error.

The new specification is seen as a major step in supporting a national health IT strategy on interoperability. Once fully implemented in a few months time, it will enable the near seamless exchange of information between many different computer systems.

A general practitioner will be able to send information to any other healthcare provider. Because the information is initiated by its holder, it can not be transmitted inadvertently.

As an open, standards-based, vendor-neutral solution, the online forms specification is intended to allow organisations such as the Ministry of Health, district health boards, Accident Compensation, primary health organisations and management services organisations to quickly develop and deploy online forms.

Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne spoke of the importance of interoperability in health last week. When addressing a Fronde “cloud” presentation in Wellington, he said the government’s broadband plans would be an important enabler.

National Health IT Board director Graeme Osborne says he is pleased the standard has got to the point of being published and is looking forward to the vendors getting it out into the sector.

“It has taken a long time. The vendors were ready to go a year ago and now they are having to come back to bring it into their list of priorities.

“It is a good tool that we want the vendors to use.”

Osborne says the final version of the National Health IT Plan is expected to be announced around July 20 following a board meeting.

Professor Jim Warren, who chaired the technical architecture specification committee, says the approved standard is a great first step which will need to continually be reviewed and revised.

“It’s grounded in what vendors have done over some years. It’s practical and is within reach. This is really important stuff and is distinctive on the world scene.”

HealthLink CEO Tom Bowden says he is absolutely delighted that the specification has been signed off. HealthLink provides health information exchange services to more than 9500 medical practices across New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific.

“We’re particularly interested in using the specification for the exchange of electronic referrals,” he says. “We’ve been using the draft standard and we think that moving to a fully signed off HISO-endorsed specification will be another huge improvement.”

Johan Vendrig, Auckland District Health Board CIO, supports the new standard.

“Given the type of interactions we are trying to promote in the sector, standardisation of forms servers and services will be critical to our success.

“We really need to take the implementation and adoption of standards a bit more seriously and actively drive implementation of such standards.

“It has become very clear to me that there is a big gap between agreeing on a standard and implementing it.”

See also EHR expert slams UK govt health programme.

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