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Improvements needed in healthcare communication: OA

Optometry Australia (OA) has called on the Federal Government to improve digital communication systems so that patient information can be shared securely and more efficiently.
Genevieve Quilty, former CEO of Optometry Australia
Genevieve Quilty, former CEO of Optometry Australia

OA chief executive officer Ms Genevieve Quilty told Insight that if the Australian Digital Health Agency committed to making secure message delivery interoperable, optometrists would not need to invest in several systems to communicate with GPs, ophthalmologists and other optometrists.

"Once secure message delivery systems are interoperable across providers, we would like to see secure messaging capability integrated into existing optometry clinical practice software so that the transfer of patient information is seamless and safe," she added.

Currently, secure messaging systems for optometrists are accessed through a secure web portal or a separate program. By comparison, secure messaging is integrated with all major general practice clinical software systems.

Ms Quilty stated that while general practice had received incentive payments from the Government to implement digital health technologies such as the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (now known as the My Health Record) and secure message delivery, no similar incentives had been extended to optometry to support the profession's move to digitalised forms of communication.

"[This is] disappointing given current government and community expectations, and something we will continue to raise at relevant forums," Ms Quilty said.

OA's appeal follows the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners' (RACGP) release of a position paper on the use of secure electronic communication within the healthcare system.

The paper, which was published last week, called for all healthcare services and government agencies that communicated patient information with GPs to eliminate paper forms and faxes within the next three years and to replace them with secure digital communications.

"It is somewhat bizarre that in an advanced era of rapid and timely electronic communications many Australian healthcare organisations still use the fax machine as the most important document communications device," RACGP president Dr Frank Jones commented.

"General practice has been equipped to communicate digitally for over a decade and we must embrace it now as the benefits for patients and practices will be enormous."

Ms Quilty agreed that secure digital messaging offered numerous benefits to optometrists, including improvements for workflow efficiency and healthcare provider collaboration, in addition to added security and privacy for patient clinical information.

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Regardless of whether information is communicated electronically or via paper, Ms Quilty advised, "Optometrists are obliged to act in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles and take reasonable steps to protect the patient's personal information.

"OA recommends all electronic transmission of sensitive information, such as sending a patient referral, is secured using a form of encryption," she added.

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