The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) has selected IBM to develop and implement Australia's ehealth authentication system.
The $23.6 million deal was inked yesterday following an open tender process that commenced last September.
IBM was to build the National Authentication Service for Health (NASH), which would use Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), smartcards and readers to control access to sensitive healthcare data.
NASH would allow authenticated healthcare organisations and personnel to exchange information such as referrals, prescriptions, and patients' personally controlled ehealth records (PCEHR).
It would be used by about 600,000 healthcare providers nationwide, and adhere to the National e-Authentication Framework, Gatekeeper PKI Framework and National Smartcard Framework.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon indicated that the system would be complemented by audit and monitoring processes for both local health provider systems and national e-health services.
NEHTA also planned to provide the software industry with a software development kit (SDK) to facilitate the integration of existing healthcare systems and NASH.
A NEHTA spokesman said the extent of the SDK would be decided during the design phase of the NASH project, which commenced yesterday.
It was intended to support cross-platform applications and to be vendor-neutral, encompassing "all accepted, certified and recognisable platforms, languages and operating systems, which are commonly used within medical software and authentication service application development".
According to NEHTA documents, NASH was initially intended to be built in 2008 and launched in 2009 as the first stage of implementing a national ehealth record service.
IBM's logo was sighted on NEHTA's 2010 presentation slides - during speeches made well before the tender process kicked off. However, the authority claimed to have ensured, "as far as possible, a level tendering playing field".
"The presence of the IBM logo on certain material reflects the fact that IBM Australia, as well as other consultancies and government agencies, worked with NEHTA, to jointly deliver preliminary aspects of NASH and associated programmes," a NEHTA spokesman said.
"All documents produced earlier ... were provided to all RFT [request for tender] registered vendors.
"To provide the maximum opportunity for participation by Australian industry, NEHTA included in the tender the opportunity for partial bids that would encourage consortium to be put together and ensure we captured as much market capability that existed in Australia as possible."
As per tender requirements, IBM planned to deliver NASH by 30 June 2012. Roxon said the contract was "another step towards" a July 2012 launch of PCEHR, in accordance with the Government's 2010 election promise.
IBM claimed to have been selected for its "deep expertise in the healthcare sector", security and access management capabilities, and "proven track record" in complex transformation programs.
Last December, the Department of Health and Ageing renewed a 10-year relationship with IBM in a four-year deal worth $109 million - an agreement that was not market tested.
IBM had a rockier relationship with Queensland Health, which blamed the contractor for a failed SAP HR payroll system implementation last June.