Feedback from the adopter sites will be used to support the switch from current paper-based systems to a variety of e-forms that will provide GPs with information to aid swift diagnosis.
Pathology messaging, with some 35 million messages a year passing between labs, hospitals and GPs surgeries, has long been seen as key to driving up the use of the troubled NHSnet, a wide area network connecting NHS organizations.
The NHS information authority said its interim security solution would not conflict with its plan to roll out fully connected Public Key Infrastructure security by December 2002.
Steve Walker, programme director at the NHS information policy unit, said, "It is vital we go ahead with an interim solution so that we can make immediate use of the many benefits offered by the network and introduce efficient, integrated working practices. Migration to the core NHS encryption standard will follow as a matter of course."
The NHS information authority caused controversy last year when it decided to press ahead with the 25 year-old electronic data interchange (EDI) technology - Edifact - for pathology messaging, rather than use an XML based system. XML is the core of the government's interoperability framework.
National roll-out of electronic pathology messaging services will follow the adopter period by the target date of December 2002, by which time all 200 pathology laboratories should be connected.
The early adopter communities are Birmingham, Dudley, North Nottinghamshire, Kensington Chelsea and Westminster, Bury and Rochdale, Manchester, Tees, Northumberland, Croydon, Newcastle and North Tyneside, Somerset, Stockport and Sandwell.