news The Federal Government has announced the trial of a new registration system for the My Health Record (previously called the PCEHR), citing the ability of account holders to opt out if required.
However, the new system is already under criticism for failing to explain how or why users would opt out, enabling automatic enrolment, and glossing over the potential for user information to be accessed by non-medical government agencies.
The new My Health Record is designed to give both patients and health professionals immediate access to users’ “necessary” health information online to “improve co-ordinated care outcomes, reduce duplication and provide vital information in emergency situations,” according to Minister for Health Sussan Ley.
The trial will include the automatic creation of electronic health records for over a million residents in Western Sydney and North Queensland.
The health minister said this would improve coverage rates after the previous Labor Government’s “preference to allow patients to opt-in, rather than opt-out” led to less than one in 10 Australians signing up for the service.
Patients would have “ultimate control over who accessed their information”, she said, including adding additional password protections.
Ley said the government had especially focused on protecting patient privacy as part of the scheme, adding that it had passed supporting legislation mandating fines of up to $500,000 and even jail sentences for anyone who deliberately misuses or inappropriately accesses users’ health information.
“It’s important Australians are able to have access to their medical records and safely and securely share them with health professionals no matter where they are in the country if we are to truly improve clinical outcomes and efficiency,” she said.
“Our new My Health Record means people will not have to remember the names of the medications prescribed, details of diagnosis and treatments, allergies, medical procedures and there will be no need to repeat the same information when they see another doctor or go to hospital,” she continued.
“I consider this a landmark turning point in improving our health system and bringing it into the 21st century.”
“Doctors have indicated they’re much more likely to use the system if all their patients have a record,” Ms Ley said.
Notably, the system will have a “break-glass option”, allowing patients to set maximum levels of security protection without blocking access to their vital information in medical emergencies.
Residents in the Northern Queensland Primary Health Network and Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network will be sent a letter informing them of the trial and how they can opt out if they choose, a government statement said.
By mid-June 2016 residents participating will be able to change their access controls to the record, ahead of their doctor accessing the My Health Record in mid-July 2016.
However, in a statement released on 6 March, the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) criticised the new scheme and the way in which it has been presented, saying:
“Instead of allowing people to elect if they want or need another health record, the Federal Government has decided that it will try and create a new one, for everybody. Unfortunately, in the media release they haven’t mentioned what you should do if you want to opt-out, neither do they even mention why you should seriously consider opting-out.”
Acknowledging that sometime after 4 April, users will be able to opt-out and be informed of the fact, the foundation also criticised the fact that no information is provided on why users might want to consider opting out.
Also targeted is the “hidden” government website providing details on the trial and allowing users to indicate a desire to opt out, along with a general lack of detailed information for users.
“What this all means in terms of identifying yourself, or if you need a myGov account or if you don’t have the internet or if you are away from home and don’t get your all important letter, it doesn’t say,” the APF said.
The privacy advocate even went as far as to suggest that the My Health scheme it “isn’t designed to be used for primary health care”, saying: [I]t can be used by law enforcement and revenue protection agencies. What that means is that the police, ASIO, ATO and Border Protection, amongst others can all request to see your health data. You won’t know about it because the government won’t tell you. ”