Published September 14th 2021

Background: In 2016, the journey to e-Referrals began with the National Digital Health Strategy. Now, five years later, Victoria has successfully rolled out e-Referrals statewide. We caught up with some of the PHNs who have been behind the rollout to reflect on the journey that has brought them to this successful outcome.

Kirsty McDougall
Lead – Digital Health | Eastern Melbourne PHN


When and why did Eastern Melbourne PHN introduce GP e-Referrals?

Since 2017, Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network (EMPHN) collaborated with three major health services (Eastern Health, Austin Health, Northern Health) and in October 2020, Monash Health, to develop and roll out the integrated HealthPathways Melbourne/e-Referral solution across more than 350 general practices in the region. This solution allows GPs to send e-Referrals that are auto populated from their clinical information system, creating a more seamless experience for patients.  Within the e-Referral template, GPs can access the relevant referral pathway on HealthPathways Melbourne for guidance on referral criteria, and any relevant tests that need to be included with the referral.

The team has been supporting general practices using Medical Director, Best Practice, Genie and Medtech Evolution to adopt HealthLink SmartForms in sending referrals to Health Services and in addition, MyAged Care and promoting the SR Specialists functionality too.

EMPHN has ambitious targets for the future to see the cessation of the fax machine and transition to 100% e-Referrals.

How has HealthLinks SmartForms technology supported the GP referral?

Knowing the referral has reached the door of the Health Service is one of the ways technology is supporting GPs. With fax, the GP can’t be confident that it has been successfully received, or pages missing and/or poor quality which is difficult to read at the Health service end.

We didn’t incentivise the general practices to come on board with SmartForms.  This was general practice wanting to change to a different way of sending referrals – reducing time to generate a referral at the GP end and having the SmartForm templates that contain referral information and all the data that is required to have a good e-Referral and pulled out of the clinical software.

Other feedback that we have received from general practices includes how easy it is to complete the forms and not having to print and fax the referral form.  Additionally, the GP will receive immediate acknowledgement of receipt of the e-Referral and it is instantly saved in the patient medical record, something the old fax machine simply can’t do.

How have GPs across Melbourne and your referrer catchment adopted this solution?

Awareness, support and training has been the key. In 2017, we ran an awareness campaign through an ‘Expression of Interest’.

And 4 years later, e-Referral is one of our key priorities in the toolbox of digital programs we provide and support to our general practices.

HealthLink provides excellent customer support and assists general practices to troubleshoot issues including registration and onboarding.

What is the great benefit GPs have received by using the new SmartForm e-Referral?

Positive feedback from general practice has been around the speed, certainty and accuracy and there is no cost to the GP.

Our role has been to support the change management and manage expectations that adapting to new technology takes time. Additionally, we have to consider the variability of IT skills of GPs and willingness to upgrade to the conformant version of their clinical software, and then there are those GPs moving from paper patient files to electronic patient records.

The e-Referral templates developed align with the Statewide Referral Criteria for Specialist Clinics. Inclusion of the criteria, along with a direct link to HealthPathways Melbourne, will help ensure the hospitals receive appropriate referrals, with the required information included, to avoid delays with the referral.

Based on your current experience, would you ever go back to life before GP e-Referrals?

No, it has been exciting and rewarding to see the monthly increase of e-Referrals into Health Services and we look forward to the expansion of more Health Services receiving e-Referrals.

Whilst GP change management is taking time, there is a lot of work being done to make it a better experience for both GPs and Health Services.

The message is loud and clear: Stop using fax to send referrals and embrace e-Referrals.



To start using GP e-Referrals, check out our HealthLink SmartForm user guides for:

  • Best Practice
  • Genie Solutions
  • Medical Director 3.16 and Above