Telecom may share health network

Telecom may have to share the Ministry of Health-sponsored Health Intranet with other providers if discussions develop into a new deal.

Telecom may have to share the Ministry of Health-sponsored Health Intranet with other providers if discussions develop into a new deal.

Senior people involved in the Health Intranet say they have discussed with other telcos a break in the Telecom monopoly over the wide area VPN used to transmit patient, treatment, health and financial information among a growing number of health providers.

However, Clear Communications government specialist Geoff Fellows says the company has not been involved in any discussions on the network.

Clear was used for the concept-testing phase of the intranet, in 1998, but Telecom was selected as provider for the long-term implementation, largely due to its Safecom secure communications offering.

TelstraSaturn was unable to confirm or deny whether it was in discussion over a role in providing services to the intranet.

“We will always welcome competitive providers of VPN technology, and we have had discussions with some of them,” says the head of the health intranet governance body, Paul Cressey. The identity of the two companies that had approached the intranet body to provide VPN services is confidential unless they choose to reveal it, Cressey says.

The growth of alternative providers will be driven by the market, Cressey says. If providers such as GPs want to use an alternative VPN supplier, the intranet will accommodate it. But the proviso will always be that Telecom’s and any alternative networks intercommunicate fully, so any health professional attached to the network through one telco will be able to communicate fully and securely with one using another communications provider.

The intranet is “very much alive and well”, and will survive well into the future Cressey says, despite persistent rumours of its demise or absorption into a larger entity, during the evolution of the government’s Wave report on the future of health information systems.

The final Wave report signalled accommodation of both the Health Intranet and competitive offerings, such as the private-sector Healthlink under the planned portal.

The intranet has been criticised among other factors for overkill on security, with its requirement for digital certificates for access.

“We have a duty of care over [patients’ and health providers’] information,” says Debbie Chin, the ministry’s deputy director-general of corporate and information services. The risk, Cressey adds, also applies to a provider unintentionally opening up their whole information system to intrusion via the internet.

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