The Federal Government announced in this years Budget that it will expand the online My Health Record (MHR) system to include every Australian by December 2018.
The online “e-health record” system is meant to be an easily accessed resource for doctors to consult for their patients' medical history, including previously prescribed medicines. It is hoped to bring “more timely access to important health information by both the consumers and their treating healthcare providers”.
The MHR is a modified version of the personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR) scheme, set up in 2012. The PCEHR was a voluntary system, but only about 20% of Australians chose to enter it, and few doctors used it.
In 2016 the government carried out a trial of the new system in two large communities, in Northern Queensland and NSW, involving nearly one million people. Less than 2% of the participants chose to opt out.
The Federal Department of Health has committed $374.2 million over two years to the MHR program, and entered into agreements with the Australian Medical Association and The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners to secure their participation and support in its delivery. The Pharmacy Guild has also expressed their commitment to working with the Australian Digital Health Agency which will carry out the program.
News Corp reporter Sue Dunlevy has criticised the system, claiming in several articles over the last six months that a patient's records could be viewed by any “registered health practitioner”, whether they are dentists, optometrists, dieticians, doctors employed by insurance companies, or occupational therapists working for a patient's employer. This, she fears, could lead to people gaining information which should rightfully be the patient's own business.
Australians can protect their information by applying for a PIN code, allowing them to control who sees their data. However, they can only get a PIN code by asking for one. Also, Ms Dunlevy claims, the government has no plan to publicise this option by media or mail.
Anyone who wishes to opt out must visit the website myhealthrecord.gov.au, and provide an email address in a box at the foot of the home page. In about June they should receive an email telling them what steps to take if they wish to opt out. This may be difficult for anyone who is not able to access the internet easily, such as people with disabilities or the elderly.