Pharmacy VPN back on track

Development of a virtual private network for pharmacists to exchange information and utilise reporting and analysis tools is back on track, after moves to build it were abandoned last year.

Development of a virtual private network for pharmacists to exchange information and utilise reporting and analysis tools is back on track, after moves to build it were abandoned last year.

The project was suspended after Primenet, the company formed to create the VPN, and its then partner Ignite Holdings, cancelled the deal, which was to have delivered the VPN wirelessly.

Primenet has now joined forces with ISP Iconz to get the project going again, says Muir Hutchison, service development manager of the NZ Pharmacy Guild, which owns half of Primenet.

While the original proposal was to run the VPN wirelessly, the new project, being trialled in three pharmacies in Auckland and the Manawatu, will most likely be ADSL-based, utilising Telecom’s JetStream. However, Hutchison says the project is not “beholden” to any one telco and any technology, wireless or wired, that meets the needs of the VPN will be considered in the future.

The first aim of the VPN is to link pharmacies into a secure, user-identifiable environment to share patient health information, Hutchinson says. Later, other registered health professionals will be tied in. “Through web-based technology, it will also provide an ideal means of providing value-added services such as stock ordering systems, secure messaging and the provision of reference materials.”

VPN applications are unlikely to stop there; another potential use is as a secure path for electronic claims to Health Benefits, formerly the Health Funding Authority. “This is being discussed with Health Benefits,” Hutchison says.

At present Health Benefits receives claims from doctors and pharmacists dispensing government-subsidised medicines via email, fax, phone, floppy disk, EDI and web-based means and formats them for processing using GTPS (general transaction processing system), a Java, XML and SOAP-based standardising system which went live in October.

A further possible development is a “dispensed medicines database”, which would allow analysis of medication dispensed by pharmacists on the VPN.

Hutchison says patient privacy will be key. “No patient-identifiable prescription information would be collected or stored without the informed consent of the person concerned, but reports of aggregated medicine use will be provided to bodies which have a need for it, for clinical and budgetary reasons.”

The database doesn’t yet exist and if compiled, would come into being with the aid of “software which permits the automated download of dispensed prescription data”. The software has the capability to record all medicines dispensed, not just government-subsidised ones, as is the case today, Hutchison says.

The original wireless-based contract with Ignite was cancelled for “various and complex reasons”, he says. “They include change of control of the contracting company and probably a below-market price for the contract in the first place.” He wouldn’t elaborate further.

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