Australians have until Thursday, November 15 to opt out of the digital My Health Record system, or they will automatically have a digital record created for them.
Every Australian will automatically be rolled onto the online summary of their personal health information unless they opt out. Personal health information will be uploaded online by care providers to make it easier for doctors, carers and other health professionals to access health information in one online portal. This will also make it easier for patients who visit multiple specialists and health professionals, as well as potentially saving lives in emergency situations because vital information will be easily accessible.
More than 6.1 million Australians are already using the system, while 13,000 healthcare organisations including general practices, hospitals, pharmacies, diagnostic imaging and pathology practices are already connected. Still, 1.15 million Aussies have opted out, with 20,000 people requesting their information be taken offline on the first day of the initiative.
Many are concerned about their privacy and data being compromised, including some security experts who warn a major privacy breach is inevitable.
“In an environment where we seem to be hearing about a new data breach practically every few days, My Health Record is yet another privacy and security nightmare,” University of Queensland Associate Lecturer Liam Pomfret said in a statement to Scimex earlier this year. “Our health records are some of the most sensitive information we have, yet the privacy controls My Health Record offers to patients are dubious at best.”
Vijay Varadharajan, Microsoft Chair Professor in Innovation in Computing Director, acknowledged that there is a growing trend in information going digital, but there were flaws in My Health.
“From a technical point of view, there are access controls in place, however, the data itself, at this stage, is in plain format, it is not encrypted,” he said. “Hence there is a potential for leakage if a breach occurs. With the growth in malware and security attacks, we cannot rule this possibility out.”
The Morrison Government last week introduced further legislative amendments to ensure the safety and privacy of health information in the My Health Record system. This included provisions to protect people against domestic violence and tougher penalties for people who misuse the system.
Following recommendations from a Senate Inquiry, Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the Government listened to concerns raised by various groups and My Health Record users to increase penalties for improper use of the digital system, strengthen provisions to safeguard against domestic violence, prohibit employers from requesting and using health information in a person’s record for discriminatory purposes and that no health information will be released to private health insurers or other types of insurers for research purposes.
“These proposed amendments are in addition to the amendments announced in July, which have already passed the lower house,” Hunt said in a statement. “They include that law enforcement agencies can only access a person’s My Health Record with a warrant or court order and anyone who chooses to cancel a record at any time will have that record permanently deleted.”
The move was backed by AMA President Dr Tony Bartone, who said the AMA supports the Government’s proposed amendments that address concerns raised by the AMA, including issues surrounding privacy, confidentiality and access by insurers. He also said the AMA had worked closely with Hunt and the Australian Digital Health Agency to make changes to provide greater confidence in the security of the record for both doctors and patients.
Anyone wishing to delete their record after the November 15 deadline will be able to do so at any time in their lives and the record will be deleted forever.
The Australian Digital Health Agency, which is responsible for the My Health Record, said Australians have greater ability to personally control their digital health information than other countries around the world.
“Although many countries have laws that allow users to view their health information, only Australia and a handful of other countries have laws that allow citizens to control who sees their information and request corrections to their own health data,” Agency Chief Medical Adviser Meredith Makeham said in a statement.
Australians originally had until October 15 to opt out, but the date was extended by a month. Opting out can be done by either accessing the My Health Record website or by calling 1800 723 471. People will need their Medicare Card and either a driver’s licence, passport or ImmiCard as a form of identification.