My Health Record: Experts move to ease concerns as opt-out period ends

Matt Woodley

31/01/2019 4:24:09 PM

The impending creation of millions of electronic health records still has some Australians on edge, prompting authorities to reassure users regarding privacy and security issues.

The My Health Record opt-out period ended 31 January.
The My Health Record opt-out period ended 31 January.

The lead-up to the end of the My Health Record opt-out period on 31 January was punctuated by a series of reports regarding the security and effectiveness of the new system.
Many people have chosen to use the new function created by the Australian Digital Health Agency, which allows patients to permanently delete their record at any time.
‘The RACGP successfully lobbied to improve the privacy provisions of the My Health Records Act,’ RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon told newsGP
The changes include requiring a court order for non-clinicians to access the record and permanent deletion of the record if persons choose to opt out. 
‘People can now join or leave the system at any time, despite the formal opt-out period ending,’ Dr Nespolon said.
‘Their record will be deleted permanently if they choose to leave.’
While the change is designed to further strengthen public trust in the system, RACGP Expert Committee – Practice Technology and Management Chair, Dr Rob Hosking, told newsGP that most of the apprehension is largely a result of people not understanding the purpose or capabilities of My Health Record.
‘My Health Record is really just a repository of information that is currently available within lots of disparate systems,’ he said.
‘Whether it be the GP’s records, or the hospital records, or pathology company records, all this information is available now – it’s just trying to pull it together so we potentially have one access point we can go to for information.
‘I think it’s people looking for something to get wound up about because we’re at the end of the opt-out period … there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what it is and what it can do.’
Most recently, high profile independent Federal MP Dr Kerryn Phelps expressed concerns that doctors could be sued if a patient suffered an adverse reaction after they relied on incomplete or inaccurate information in a My Health Record, and called on the Federal Government to protect them in such instances.
Dr Phelps has said some GPs are ‘furious’ about the new system, but Dr Hosking said any malpractice fears are no more of a danger than before the creation of My Health Record.
‘It’s a shame that some of our colleagues are not taking advantage of the education the [RACGP] has been providing,’ Dr Hosking said.
‘There is widespread agreement amongst all the medical defence organisations that My Health Record would actually … reduce the risk for doctors, because doctors would have access to some information that they didn’t have access to before.
‘Like any information, we should always check the authenticity or accuracy of it … whether it’s in paper form or electronic form, it doesn’t matter, we still have to check.’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has also reassured people their information will be protected and went as far as guaranteeing that no one’s My Health Record data would ever be wrongfully exposed.
‘We listened to the community and we worked on adding safeguards and protections,’ Minister Hunt said. ‘Any Australian can opt in or opt out at any point in their life. It’s completely their choice.’
Likewise, Dr Hosking said privacy concerns have been overstated, especially following legislative changes in November, and that there are multiple steps patients can take to protect their information.
‘The missing part of the debate which is there, but perhaps is not being advertised, is the patient’s ability to set security settings within their own My Health Record,’ he said.
‘A patient can set it with a secure access code or pin number… [or] can have individual documents that they would only like to give access to certain people, so they have an access code on that document.
‘You can also have the records send you an SMS if somebody accesses your record for the first time, and if it’s not appropriate you can report it to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and they investigate.’
Stronger protections were put in place last year to safeguard patients against domestic violence, prohibit employers and health insurance companies from requesting and using health information, and restrict access by law enforcement and insurance companies.
Anyone found guilty of improper use of My Health Record could face up to five years’ jail and a maximum fine of $315,000.
‘Changes to legislation that remove any questions about who may be able to access the records ensure that the records will be able to be used in line with the RACGP’s position statement on My Health Record,’ Dr Nespolon told newsGP last year.
‘When a patient steps into the office of one of our GPs, we want them to know that their health information is private and protected.’
However, Dr Nespolon believes that with continued uptake by the healthcare sector, My Health Record has the potential to improve clinical decision-making and continuity of care.
‘This is another example where principled lobbying by the RACGP has produced a My Health Record that can be better trusted by doctors and patients,’ he said.
‘No system is perfect, but the changes brought about by the RACGP get it closer to a system that will be used by patients and doctors – the real test now begins, what value patients and doctors will see from a billion dollar system.’

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Greg Beaver   1/02/2019 6:32:43 PM

I am very supportive of Dr Phelps' concern re Legal protection for Drs if errors are made because of incorrect or missing information from patients health record particularly if this information can be controlled by the patient. If Patients have altered their own records could this be flagged so future health care practitioners are aware that this has occurred and possibly discuss this in with the patent in private or allow for the fact that the records are not fully complete or accurate