Auckland health IT project enters testing phase

Regional e-Referrals project takes another step towards go-live

What’s been described as one of the most important health projects of the past 15 years is entering the testing phase.

Auckland regional e-Referrals project spokesperson Ngaire Buchanan says the Auckland e-Referrals project has been a long haul. “But as everyone within the project team well knows, it is a very large project and a very important one.”

The two participating electronic medical records (EMR) vendors have now delivered releases of their EMR products with the major functionality in place to support the HISO 10014.2 standard.

“The two EMR systems are now being tested by our sub-contractor, HealthLink, and formal testing of the EMRs on our own systems is due to commence,” Buchanan says.

The work on online referrals began four years ago at the Hutt Valley District Health Board.

Each month the board receives around 1000 electronic referrals from 30 general practices. The e-referrals system enables the GPs to refer their patients to any of 28 DHB services by creating electronic referrals within the general practices’ electronic medical records systems.

HealthLink CEO Tom Bowden says the pilot was subject to the usual teething issues. The region’s GPs were unwilling to use the new system unless it improved rather than hindered their productivity.

“Our key objective was to establish a viable e-referrals system,” he says. “In order to do this we had to test a number of assumptions about the readiness of online technology and to use the project as a starting point for developing a series of communications and security-related standards.”

GPs were quick to adopt the solution once a full suite of e-referral templates was available. Bowden says the quick uptake was clear recognition that e-referrals improved general practices’ workflow. “GPs also see a benefit in the improved care they believe patients will received because of the amount and quality of information that can now be sent to the hospital as part of an electronic referral.”

This prototype led to a range of more advanced e-referral implementations: in Wairarapa, Northland and the Bay of Plenty regions.

“This is the first time broadband has been properly harnessed in medical services,” Bowden says.

“New Zealand has 450,000 hospital referrals a year. We expect that by the end of this year, half of the referrals in Auckland will be e-referrals.

“This is the most important project in health that I’ve seen in the past 15 years.

“The reason it can work in New Zealand is because we’ve got a highly organised health system.”

HealthLink makes its money by charging GPs. In Auckland, however, there is a nil cost to the GPs because the district health boards are paying the $50 per month fee.

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