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A pilot of clinical messaging by Merton, Sutton & Wandsworth Health Authority is using ViaCode digital certificates to protect patient consultation notes. The pilot is under the NHS Information Authority (NHSIA) electronic records development and implementation programme (ERDIP).

Batched, then encrypted and signed by a ViaCode certificate, e-form records of telephone helpline consultations are being e-mailed over NHSNet direct to GP surgery computer systems, with no need for re-keying on arrival.

“It’s important for continuity of advice and treatment that family doctors know their patients have been advised by the help-line,” says the GP leading the trial Dr Paul Cundy. “Doing it by encrypted and signed messaging in a format compatible with GP computer systems means doctors’ practice costs are lowered and the potential for errors is reduced.

“It’s also fast and portable. Today there’s no such thing as 24 hour care by GPs. People can use NHS Direct, walk-in centres and A&E departments. This way we can ensure that the doctor or medical professional next looking after the patient has the entire history at their fingertips. It will also help drive up the quality of patient care. The system is bi-directional so that doctors can give their primary care colleagues timely feedback about advice and treatment. We’ve already proved that our model works and hope that it will pave the way for a national roll-out.”

Certificate technology was chosen to secure the service because it delivers, in an affordable and scalable way, all the core elements needed for patient confidentiality and trust: assured authenticity of sender and receiver identity, privacy and integrity of information being exchanged, and a legally recognised digital signature.

ViaCode, an established supplier of certificate-based services to central government, industry and commerce, is already underpinning the NHSIA’s secure pathology messaging service, and a trial of secure electronic prescriptions with doctors in Stockport and London.

Early indications are that the NHS will favour the outsourced model for certificate provision, rather than choose to buy and operate in-house the complex software needed to issue and manage certificates.

“It makes a lot of sense,” says Kevin Still, sales director at ViaCode. “As always you have to factor buying and running costs against the benefits and savings. Certificates from an outsourced services provider like ViaCode cost just a fraction of those generated in-house. If you then use those certificates to switch costly manual processes onto the Internet, it’s very easy to see a rapid return on investment and the prospect of real bottom-line savings.”

ViaCode, a wholly owned subsidiary of Consignia, is one of Europe’s largest providers of managed certificate services with a fast-growing customer base in industry, commerce and the public sector. ViaCode encryption uses full-strength 128-bit cryptography. A secure key-backup and recovery facility means critical information, previously encrypted, is not lost in the event of a certificate being damaged or mislaid. Separate key pairs for encryption and signing mean ViaCode digital signatures are non-deniable.


Further editorial information:

ViaCode: Jainie Joliffe - 020 7847 3391

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