Privacy Foundation questions Govt’s e-health record motives


news The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) has said it is “concerned” about the Government’s eHealth plans for patients’ information.

In a statement, APF Health Committee Chair Dr Bernard Robertson-Dunn asked “What is the government really intending to do with our health data?”

In the recent Federal Budget, the Government allocated over $200 million 
in 2016-17 for the Digital Health Agency to run the My Health Record
 system (previously known as the Personally Controlled eHealth Record).

Active since 2012, the scheme will have cost “well over” 
$2 billion by the end of 2017, according to the statement.

“In the same budget there were no estimates as to the reduction in health 
expenditure that would result from this significant investment,” said Dr Robertson-Dunn, suggesting there would be “No 
benefits next year or for any year”.

The APF cited the government’s eHealth website and its statistics page, which 
includes registration and usage, which lists the numbers of
 clinical documents uploaded.

“However, for a health record to be useful it needs to have been 
accessed, utilised and instrumental in improving health care,” said Dr Robertson-Dunn. “So far, 
there has not been a single reported use of anyone’s health record, nor
 any reports of how it may have saved money or improved the quality of 
health care.”

The APF quoted Minister for Health Sussan Ley, who stated in March that: 

“If all Australians are signed up to a functioning My Health Record, it 
is estimated that it could save 5,000 lives per year and could help avoid 2 million primary care and outpatient visits
, 500,000 emergency department visits, 310,000 hospital admissions.”

“Yet she is not bold enough to include any financial savings whatsoever 
in budget estimates,” said the Foundation.

“No access, no downloads, no financial savings, just an enormous risk to
 patient privacy,” it concluded.

In the March statement, the Minister for Health set out the Government’s stance on privacy and the protections it is building into the system, saying:

“The Turnbull Government takes privacy very seriously and we have put in place the necessary protections to ensure the information in your My Health Record is as safe and secure as possible. Trialling the implementation of the new opt-out system is about reassuring the public they can have confidence in our new My Health Record.”

Ley added that a “life-saving ‘break-glass option’ was included in the new My Health Record”, which allows patients to have “maximum security protections” while still making available their vital information in medical emergencies.


  1. Certainly given the inability of many organisations to secure their data, I’d be way concerned even with the security put in place based on my brief read (I like for instance that the person gets to provide access to others through temporary keys) though who know how the data is stored.

    Which probably is a bit hypocritical of me given I already use a handful of apps that store some personal medical data in unknown locations and in unknown formats.

    Certainly from my read of the privacy /security policy though whilst you can control who accesses it in terms of doctors etc, your data is allowed to be used for public medical research.

    As it notes:

    “The My Health Record legislation provides authority to the preparation and issue of de-identified reports for public health and research purposes. A framework is being developed for the secondary use of My Health Records information. This will inform how the My Health Record System Operator (currently the Secretary of the Department of Health) prepares and discloses de-identified information”

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