Published December 8th 2023
First published by Pulse+IT on 29/11/2023
Written by Kate McDonald

Western Sydney to axe the fax in Engage Outpatients eReferrals pilot

Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) is getting ready to pilot NSW’s Engage Outpatients eReferral solution in two groups of clinics at Blacktown Hospital.

The solution, which has been piloted at Sydney LHD and Northern NSW LHD, uses HealthLink’s SmartForms secure messaging technology and an electronic referral management system (eRMS) co-developed with eHealth NSW.

The solution sees an eReferral form generated within the GP’s practice management system, where it is pre-populated with demographic data, medical history, medications and alerts. HealthPathways are embedded in the system to guide the referral, and it is then electronically sent to the eRMS, where it is triaged.

Referrers are notified electronically that it has been received or if more information is required. Patients are also be notified. Clinical documents can be attached to the referral. The eRMS is integrated with the hospital’s EMR providing the referral information for the outpatient clinic.

The technology uses FHIR as the standard to exchange communication between NSW Health and external healthcare providers. HealthLink and NSW Health have signed a $2.8 million contract for the phased roll out of the technology.

WSLHD is piloting the solution at its gastroenterology/liver clinics in Western Sydney, as well as antenatal and gynaecology clinics. WSLHD chief medical information officer Naren Gunja said if the pilot goes well, it is hoped to be expanded across more of the district.

“For us, the main benefits are the visibility,” Dr Gunja told a WSLHD webinar recently. “At the moment, you have to walk into a particular room, look at a bundle of referrals, and triage them. You can’t do it from anywhere in the hospital, and our clinicians are mobile. They could be working from home on a particular day.

“So, this allows that kind of visual visibility to be able to look at everything everywhere. The system has a lot of fantastic metrics and dashboards for us to be able to operationally manage the whole clinic system to know what needs to be prioritised, where do we need to send more staff, what’s doing well, what’s not, and where the bottlenecks are.

“One thing we are going to be doing in this pilot is we are going to be turning off the fax machine so that the only way to be able to refer to these clinics will be electronic. Fax referrals will not be allowed once they’re on this system.”

For the GP, the benefits are touted as being better communication with the hospital, near real-time transmission with no lost referrals or delays, with copies of the referrals autosaved into the PMS. HealthLink’s SmartForms are integrated with Best Practice, Medical Director, Genie, Medtech, Zedmed and Shexie practice management systems.

Western Sydney GP and HealthPathways clinical lead Michelle Crockett said most NSW GPs would be used to SmartForms as they have been used for a number of years for NSW Roads and Maritime Services, now Transport for NSW, fitness to drive medical assessments.

They are also used for referrals to My Aged Care, Hearing Australia and for referrals to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer centre.

The system is free for GPs to use through a $2.8 million contract for the phased roll out of the technology between HealthLink and NSW Health.

Some NSW LHDs and specialty networks are using other eReferral solutions. Hunter New England Health rolled out BPAC’s SeNT eReferral software in 2020, funded and supported by Hunter New England and Central Coast PHN.

Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN) went live earlier this year with a new electronic referral system from Sydney-based start-up Consultmed.

Disclaimer: Pulse+IT and HealthLink are both part of the Clanwilliam Group.