TelstraClear has entered the health networking market, offering services to the secure Health Network, a virtual private network (VPN) servicing the country’s health providers.
Launched a few years ago, the Health Network originally had two suppliers — Telecom New Zealand and HealthLink, which also delivers via Telecom.
“It effectively provides a range of VPN products that would span the requirements of large hospitals, down to GPs,” says Dougal McKechnie, office manager of the Ministry of Health health information strategy action committee.
McKechnie says TelstraClear applied to join the network and made an interconnection network with the other two providers.
“Having TelstraClear on board provides more choice for organisations to securely exchange data. We don’t have a view to prices coming down but with more choice we expect to see a movement in service quality. We will see what the market does,” he says.
The Ministry of Health has received “routine enquiries” from other telcos to offer services through the network, but nothing firm has materialised yet. Such providers have to abide by a code of practice agreed with the health sector, with security a key requirement.
McKechnie says health providers are signalling a strategic direction to exchange more information across the health sector.
“We will see greater traffic and different traffic. It’s very much around data but we expect more around images and video conferencing.”
The Ministry of Health has a National Systems Development Programme looking at at the future direction of networking and connectivity in the health sector.
“We are working closely with the ministry team to look at defining and determining future requirements,” he adds.
Already district health boards are working on projects such as sharing x-rays and other images. Hutt Valley Health and other DHBs in the Central North Island are working together on a picture archiving and communication system(PACS) system that allows the sharing of images across its members. The project, which includes broadband up to 10Mbit/s, also improves back up and disaster recovery.
CIO Tony Cooke signed up with Telecom for its VPN service, saying TelstraClear wasn’t available at the time, but he managed a secure a good deal for the Telecom Healthzone offering.
Now, Cooke is planning how he and other DHBs can work together, adding it was a case of “watch this space” with the PACS project.
TelstraClear launched its Health Network VPN services at the Health Informatics New Zealand conference in Rotorua on October 30.
It follows the company’s work in building New Zealand’s KAREN high-speed research network that connects universities and crown research institutes.
The Health Network had originally been set up by Telecom and the DHBs but TelstraClear had part-funded a “neutral interconnect” to let other suppliers serve the Health Network.
The telcos’ service is available via ADSL, fixed wireless, frame relay and fibre delivery. It promises speeds up to 10Gbit/s and up to 99.995% service availability, using the core TelstraClear network.
TelstraClear says its services meet and exceed the government’s own targets for the delivery of health industry applications and, for the first time, provides users an alternative to Telecom.
“We have opened up the market. Anyone else can connect as long as their service is accredited. The whole thing of what we are doing is what I call monopoly busting,” says Mark Wilson, TelstraClear head of enterprise and government.
Wilson says previously, users were limited to a 256kbit/s service, but now TelstraClear could offer up to 10Gbit/s if users’ infrastructure can cope.
TelstraClear has no Health Link customers yet but will be launching its unspecified health-related products over the next six months. However, the company expects demand in the imaging area of medical care, believing faster broadband will allow convenient delivery of such images.
“It’s about the product, not about the price. We will be competitive. There are now more options,” Wilson says.