Australia releases e-health framework

Australia E-health Interoperability Framework

Australia’s National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) released its E-Health Interoperability Framework today. The framework will serve as “a single source of guidance on which all parts of the health care community can agree and use as the basis for business and system integration.”

The NEHTA framework documents the approaches, policies and tools that, shared across the health sector, will deliver an interoperable e-health environment. The framework does not replace enterprise approaches by health care organizations or political jurisdictions, “but instead acts as a toolset to facilitate compatibility,” the document states.

NEHTA, jointly funded by the federal, state and territorial governments, is spearheading a three-year effort to develop a nationwide electronic health record infrastructure in Australia. The interoperability of e-health systems is essential to meeting that goal.

The framework defines interoperability as the ability of systems to share information and/or functions with another system based on common standards -- and quite distinct from systems integration, which is the combination of separate systems into a new one functioning as a whole.

NEHTA envisions an interoperable e-health architecture potentially based on systems from multiple vendors. “It is often practical and desirable to encourage support for multiple solution providers with a community, ensuring competitive market dynamics and evolution,” the paper states.

Because technology changes quickly, the framework calls for a data-driven approach to interoperability because “it is more sustainable than a connectivity-driven approach in a changing environment.”

The framework sets out a loose set of interoperability principles:

* System design should encourage accessibility by all parts of health care.

* Information transfer must occur within a security framework that includes identification, authentication and confidentiality.

* Interoperability policies and solutions must provide for privacy.

* Larger, more complex organizations should do nothing that cannot be done as well and as cost-effectively by smaller and simpler organizations.

* E-health systems should be built around open standards, which encourage collaboration and interoperability.

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