My Health Record is a centralised digital database housing your health information. The information can be accessed by you, selected healthcare providers and various other participants in the My Health Record system.
From 16 July 2018, the My Health Record scheme will transition from being ‘opt-in’ to ‘opt-out’, meaning unless an you choose not to participate in the scheme, a My Health Record account will automatically be created for you. The opt out period will close on 15 October 2018.
What information is stored on a My Health Record?
Healthcare providers such as GPs, specialists, pharmacists and hospital staff can all add documents to your My Health Record. The information can include prescriptions, a list of allergies, medical conditions, pathology test results, referral letters, hospital discharge summaries, X-ray reports and HIV status.
Your My Health Record will also feature up to two years of Medicare data.
Are there privacy concerns?
There are measures that allow individuals to control who can access the information stored in their My Health Record and you will be able to set a password so that only certain people can access individual pieces of information.
However, in order to properly operate the privacy controls, you will need to understand and assess every single piece of information on your My Health Record and make a decision about who it should be shared with. You will also need to have the IT skills to operate the system and set the controls.
If you have limited time or limited tech skills, you may not be able to effectively operate the privacy controls and your information could be unnecessarily disclosed.
Can others apart from healthcare professions access My Health Record?
The legislation drafted to support My Health Record allows for a wide range of circumstances in which any privacy controls you set can be overridden without your consent, meaning that data can be disclosed without your knowledge. These include making information available to third parties for purposes that are unrelated to healthcare — such as law enforcement.
On 31 July the responsible Minister, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the My Health Record Act would be rewritten to prevent this being able to happen:
“The amendment will ensure no record can be released to police or government agencies, for any purpose, without a court order,” the statement from Minister Hunt said. (Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 2018(link is external))
Currently, information not held in a My Health Record (say, in your file at your doctor’s) is only available to third parties with judicial oversight, meaning a warrant or a subpoena is needed to search and access the information. The Minister has assured that this will be the case when the My Health Record Act is amended.
What are the benefits of an My Health Record?
A central database of an individual’s health information means your My Health Record can be accessed anywhere, anytime by doctors, specialists and hospitals — which is particularly useful for people who are in the care of multiple healthcare providers.
In an emergency situation, healthcare providers will have instant access to a person’s medical history and be better able to manage a patient’s care.
When you see a new doctor or healthcare provider, a list of medicines, chronic condition details and the results of recent tests will be instantly available to them.
What are the risks of an My Health Record?
Two key issues have been the focus of discussions in the media since the government announced the ‘opt-out’ period in mid-July. These include:
- My Health Record being able to be accessed by a broad range of individuals and bodies that are not necessarily healthcare professionals.
- My Health Record information remaining available to government and law enforcement agencies for 130 years (even if you have ‘opted-out’ or cancelled your record).
These issues have both been addressed in the statement made by the Health Minister on 31 July 2018 following the concerns being raised by both the public and health professionals. However the changes do require amendments to be made to the My Health Record Act. At this time the amendments have not yet been made.
Individuals are still responsible for managing the privacy settings on My Health Record on an ongoing basis (see Are their privacy concerns?)
So what should you do?
It is important to make an informed decision as to whether or not you want to participate in the My Health Record scheme. Individuals should keep themselves updated with changes to the My Health Record scheme, with a particular focus on the proposed amendment by Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. Mr. Hunt has given no clear date on when the proposed amendment is due to go through.
Be aware that the onus is on individuals to opt-out. If you do not opt out an My Health Record account will automatically be created for you. By default, My Health Record documents are set to general access to all healthcare providers.
The window period for opting-out is from 16 July 2018 to 15 October 2018.
How to opt-out
For information on how to opt out of the My Health Record click here (link is external).
Information adapted from the National Association of People with HIV Australia.