Lift-off: governments sign digital health deal

4 minute read

Reform of Australia’s healthcare system is on the way. See what's in the fine print.

The new Intergovernmental Agreement on National Digital Health 2023-2027 has been signed by the Commonwealth and all eight states and territories, and quietly released into the world. 

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler was the first to sign, on 31 May, and WA’s Minister for Health Amber-Jade Sanderson was the last, on 26 July. This locks every government into a commitment to make interoperability across sectors and healthcare jurisdictions a reality. 

The signatories have committed to an overall financial contribution of $64.5 million per annum split via a cost-shared formula agreed to by the Health Chief Executives Forum in 2022-23. 

The Commonwealth will bear 50% of the cost, currently $32.25 million per annum, with the rest split between New South Wales (15.71%), Victoria (12.73%), Queensland (10.22%), WA (5.36%), South Australia (3.51%), Tasmania (1.11%), the ACT (0.88%) and the Northern Territory (0.48%).  

Funding for the ADHA and the operation of the MHR will be met by the Commonwealth.  

The parties to the agreement are now formally committed to developing and providing the following services: 

  • Healthcare Identifiers Service – a national system that assigns a unique 16-digit number to people, healthcare providers and healthcare organisations, allowing electronic systems across the national healthcare system to identify them correctly, and associate information with the right patient and provider at the point of care. The Healthcare Identifiers Act 2010 and the Healthcare Identifiers Regulations 2020 set the framework and rules for the HI Service. 
  • The modernisation of My Health Record. 
  • Implementation of the National Healthcare Interoperability Plan. 
  • Updating and modernising the National Health Services Directory 
  • Standards and informatics – the Australian Digital Health Agency’s work on standards and informatics for key products and services to support interoperability, connectivity and solutions for information exchange’. 
  • ePrescribing comprised of three software components: practice software used to generate the prescription; prescription delivery service (PDS), which incorporates a prescription exchange (PE) and holds the prescription; and pharmacy software that retrieves the e-prescription and is used to dispense the prescription. 
  • Real Time Prescription Monitoring – a nationally implemented system designed to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of controlled medicines with the aim of reducing their misuse in Australia. 
  • National Authentication Service for Health – makes it possible for healthcare providers and supporting organisations to securely access and exchange health information, using public key infrastructure certificates. 
  • National Clinical Terminology Service – easier, consistent and more meaningful use of clinical terminologies in healthcare. It is responsible for managing, developing and distributing national clinical terminologies and related tools and services to the Australian healthcare community to support their adoption, use and maintenance of terminology. 
  • New standard-related services. 
  • Healthcare Information Provider Service – a middleware product offering seamless integration with systems including patient administration systems, clinical information systems; laboratory and radiology information systems; aimed primarily at supporting large-scale digital health environments typically found in organisations such as hospitals and diagnostic service providers. 
  • National Secure Messaging Network – will define a national standard for a messaging solution that can be implemented by clinical information and secure messaging systems to enable secure, reliable and interoperable exchange of messages including text-only messages, stand-alone clinical documents or messages containing text and clinical documents between Australian healthcare providers. 
  • Provider Connect Australia connects healthcare organisations with their business partners (such as Primary Health Networks, Medicare and health services directories) to streamline updates of the services they provide and the practitioners providing them. 

Three specific delivery partners have also been “invited to participate in the governance arrangements to support collaboration and implementation of the Agreement” – the Australian Digital Health Agency, Services Australia, and Healthdirect Australia. Other delivery partners, as identified by the parties to the agreement, can also be invited to participate. 

An oversight committee will be appointed to steer and report on implementation of the Agreement, including allocation of funds. The OC will be made up of a representative from each jurisdiction and a representative from each of the delivery partners (not party to budget allocation discussions). 

The committee will be chaired by the Commonwealth representative and a rotating representative from one of the other jurisdictions.  

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