Letter: Ministry of Health replies to issues raised by HealthLink

Health IT boss says ministry is working to provide a direction on networking and application integration through the Connected Health project

Dear Sir,

In the recent article about the future of Health networks (Computerworld, 19 May), Mr Bowden from HealthLink raised a number of issues about the operation and future of the Secure Health Network that is currently used within New Zealand.

Unfortunately these comments do not provide a clear understanding of this network, how it is operated or the plans for its future. The network standards covering the secure health network are managed by the Health Information Strategic Action Committee (HISAC), and this network is operated by a limited number of private companies, such as HealthLink as a specialist health-focused value added network provider.

However, it is important to note that HealthLink also operate a separate, non-accredited value added network for health applications such as laboratory results.

HISAC is a ministerial committee that consists of representatives from across the health system, and which the Ministry of Health attends as ex officio members. The committee is, and has been responsible for, setting the standards for operation of the network and vetting the applications to join the network as published in the New Zealand standard SNZ HB 8169:2002 (available on the Standards New Zealand website).

And as networking evolves, so do HISAC’s approach to this important facility. The certification approach is currently under review within the Connected Health project, and HISAC is conducting a security conformance audit with over 1,000 users of the network. Note that HealthLink’s proprietary network is not included in these audits.

The committee have previously communicated with Mr Bowden around his concerns about remote connections, and advised him that the public register he is promoting does not contribute to enhanced security, and will only place additional unnecessary obligations on accredited network providers.

Connected Health, a project established as part of the National Systems Development Programme, is working to update the direction for health networking in New Zealand. The aim of the project is to deliver an environment that supports effective application integration, beyond the basic store-and-forward environment currently in place in the current Health Network, to support the move towards a more patient-centric health system.

As the standards for this new environment are developed, they will allow different network providers to be able to fully participate securely in an accredited way that will ensure the confidentiality of patient information is appropriately protected.

This is a very complex project, and as it develops there will be increasing involvement of potential service providers to ensure that a cost effective competitive environment is established.

New Zealand Health IT, an industry led group of health IT suppliers, has established a Connected Health Forum open to all current and potential suppliers to keep them informed on progress and to provide an opportunity to contribute. There is an open invitation to all ICT suppliers at http://www.healthit.org.nz/index.cfm/fuseaction/eprojects/fusesubaction/docs/documentID/25.

In addition, Connected Health is working very closely with the State Services Commission on the SSC’s networked state services goal with a project to move the ministry’s telecommunications needs to the Government Shared Network (GSN) well under way.

In summary, the ministry is working to provide the clear direction on networking and application integration through the Connected Health project.

As a current and potential provider of services, we will involve HealthLink in concert with other suppliers and users as the project progresses. We look forward to Mr Bowden fully committing to supporting and using the accredited secure health network and related standards.

Alan Hesketh

Deputy Director-General

Information Directorate

Ministry of Health

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Tags HealthlinkConnected HealthMinistry of Health

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