My Health Record is dividing the nation. The level of interest skyrocketed when the official opt-out period began on Monday. Suddenly, people care. What is it? Why do we need it? Why is it an opt-out system? How safe is my data? Here, we present an explainer plus the case for participating and why you should opt out.
What is My Health?
My Health Record is a government initiative that aims to store your complete medical history – controlled by you – on a national database so it can be accessed by approved health professionals.
It was launched in 2012 under the name – the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record – and when it was rebadged in 2016 there were 2.6 million users, according to the Turnbull Government.
The logic – and it does sound logical – is that you and your healthcare providers have immediate digital access to your medical history. You may have a life-threatening allergy, you may have had a lengthy battle with cancer, you may be taking a range of prescription drugs, you may have had a series of scans for a health problem. All will be stored on your My Health Record, making the list you carry in your bag or on a smartphone or in your head no longer necessary.
If you have a serious accident and can’t communicate, so long as your identity is clear, health professionals can make decisions based on your medical information.
The system should reduce errors and duplication of tests and scans and should reduce the number of ‘medical misadventures’. About 230,000 ‘misadventures’ per year lead to hospital admissions and cost $1.2 billion.
How does it work?
A My Health Record will automatically be created for you on 15 October if you decide not to opt out by that date. If you choose to participate but change your mind after 15 October, your record will be locked and kept until 30 years after your death.
The system is patient-controlled via a PIN. You can place as much information on record as you wish and view your record at any time.
You can opt to receive an alert whenever your record is accessed and there will be an audit history, which shows where and when your records were accessed.
PINS can be overridden in an emergency and for law-enforcement reasons and in the latter case, the record holder may or may not be told.
Is it safe?
The scheme boasts that it has “military-grade security” with encryption, firewalls and secure log-ins. But … it is not invulnerable. My Health Record deputy chairman Dr Steve Hambleton told Fairfax media he “can’t guarantee that there’s not a hole somewhere”.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said: “It’s arguably the world’s leading and most secure medical information system at any national level.”
The Law Council of Australia says participants should be cautioned about the secondary use of their data – for such purposes as research – and should have to opt in before it can be used for such purposes, even though it has been ‘de-identified’.
The My Health Record, however, does permit external health apps to access your records, with consent. However there have been reports that at least one of these apps had then sold information to law firms resulting in marketing material allegedly being pushed to patients who were urged to pursue legal claims.
What is it an opt-out system?
The system was originally opt-in but switched to an opt-out format this year after consultation with key healthcare bodies, including the Australian Medical Association, the Royal College of Australian General Practitioners, Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association and the Consumers Health Forum.
Do you understand the system? Are you happy to manage your record?