The Northern Rivers Medical Exchange (NRMX) has closed due to the rising cost of insuring medical data transportation. 

The Exchange started five years ago as a free service from the Northern Rivers General Practice Network for North Coast health practitioners. The Exchange used secure email to send documents between NRMX users. 

The service underwent extensive penetration testing by the Brisbane security firm YellIT prior to its general release and no major vulnerabilities were uncovered. 

The service had been less extensively used in the last 12 months, with the cost of supporting end users being a major factor in the decline.

NRMX was mostly used by allied health practitioners who found the free service an attractive alternative to the commercial offerings. It was also used by pharmacies whose communications are not routinely saved into general practitioners’ electronic health records.

Project lead, Dr David Guest, said he was disappointed by the insurer’s decision but acknowledged that. “Insurance companies face increased risks and costs arising from government penalties for data breaches. Nevertheless much of the data is low risk and is only sent to fulfill the government requirements of GPs and allied health practitioners.

“Information sent by paper is slow and sometimes illegible, particularly if it is also faxed. It is two orders of magnitude bigger than the electronic version and contributes to the bloat, slowness and costs of maintaining the surgery’s databases.”

Dr Guest noted there were many alternatives to NRMX but most of these are commercial. In the Northern Rivers the most popular secure messaging providers are Healthlink and Medical Objects both of which are being looked at by the Northern NSW Local Health District for hospital/GP electronic communication. The costs of sending via these providers is less than five cents per message. 

Dr Guest also said that free alternatives like Protonmail are secure and more than adequate but fall foul of Australian government requirements that they be housed in Australia. They are also currently not able to be broken by current computers and cryptographic methods. 

As former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, awkwardly noted when supporting the government’s right to have access to all electronic communication, “The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia."