Health intranet puts Java to test in ambitious trial

A new health intranet project, allowing GPs to access the National Health Index (NHI), is thought to be one of the largest industrial-scale Java implementations in New Zealand. The NHI, set up in 1977, is already accessible to all health care providers, but they have to make requests by fax or phone, which can be slow and inefficient.

A new health intranet project, allowing GPs to access the National Health Index (NHI), is thought to be one of the largest industrial-scale Java implementations in New Zealand.

The NHI, set up in 1977, is already accessible to all health care providers, but they have to make requests by fax or phone, which can be slow and inefficient.

During the pilot, two Wellington GPs will use the health intranet to get discharge information from Wellington Hospital to add to their patient records, and they will in turn forward referral information to the hospital, negating the need for duplication of laboratory tests.

The new service relies on authenticated browsers and a secure TCP/IP network to deliver the on-demand medical data.

Developed in Java on a Sybase Jaguar server (by Innovus, a Wellington-based consultancy specialising in developing Web-enabled applications), it’s thought to be one of the largest industrial-scale Java implementations in New Zealand.

Innovus chief executive Donna Hiser says the choice of Java was a visionary move by the NZHIS because it saw the opportunity to use Java on intranet technology at a time when it was just starting to mature as a development language.

New Zealand Health Information Service (NZHIS) group manager Paul Cohen says the high costs and limitations of the old X.25 network were unacceptable today. The X.25 protocol allows computers on different public networks to communicate through an intermediary computer at the network layer level.

NZHIS IS manager Yogesh Anand says the health intranet was seen as a way to deploy secure, modern, scalable applications at a low cost.

He says the NHI application runs inside a Java-capable Web browser.

“It’s therefore platform-independent and removes the biggest obstacle to immediate online access to the NHI — the need to install dedicated hardware. Now it’s just like making an Internet connection.”

Project manager Ad van der Tol says the security is better than is available through the X.25 network, with 128-bit encryption, digital certification and non-proprietary security standards.

The health intranet trial was launched last week as a joint project between the Wellington Independent Practice Association and Capital Coast Health.

Cohen says set-up costs for hospitals and GPs are expected to be equivalent to obtaining an Internet connection with running costs equivalent to browsing on the Internet.

The pilot will be evaluated after two months, and if successful, rolled out over 18 months.

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