Health sector takes multi-network approach

New Zealand's health sector will not be operating on a single unified network.

New Zealand’s health sector will not be operating on a single unified network.

The advisory board for the sector’s Wave networking project (Working to Add Value through E-information, also known as the Health Information Management Technology project) has decided to accommodate multiple competing networks, including the current strongest presences, the department’s own Health Intranet and the private Healthlink venture. Competition will tend to keep costs down, says Wave programme director David Moore. A single network can also provide cost efficiencies, he concedes, “but for that you need a high degree of sophistication in network management.” The health sector can’t afford that at present, he says, and it is not a high priority. The committee sees greater value in having “different networks for different situations”, Moore says. The kind of networking that adequately serves a rural group of GPs might be different from that best suited to urban doctors. Also, competing providers are fertile ground for innovation, he says. An innovative application developed by one network provider and its clients as a point of competitive differentiation may be imitated by others, to the benefit of all. But different networks need not mean incompatible systems. “There is a lot of consensus around the need to move to interoperability,” Moore says. There is much support, for example, behind a single master health portal, even though this may give access to separate portals below it for specific parts of the health spectrum; for example the top-level portal may click through to an ACC portal. He does not see multiple network providers settling for the easier markets and leaving the rural practitioner out in the cold. The client base of the current networks includes different kinds of user already; "all have some element of rurality." On the energetically debated point of security standards (see Computerworld, May 21), the committee has opted for the less sophisticated end of the scale. The minimum standard will be 128-bit SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption, rather than the more complex Ipsec protocol. User communities and providers are, however, free to implement Ipsec as an addition to the basic standard, if they feel it is warranted for some applications and will be cost-effective. There a debate is still going on about the relative value and cost of digital certificates as against simpler password protection. July 25 has been set as the deadline for resolution of that question.

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