Australians have just a three-month window to opt out of having personal information included in the new national My Health Online record.
However, many Australians know nothing about the looming deadline or the federal government’s new online system, according to the Australian Medical Association.
“Though the Australian Medical Association supports My Health Record and its benefits, many GPs are concerned there may be a current lack of public awareness about what it is and how it works,” AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said.
By May 2018, 5.82 million Australians had signed up for My Health Record. In all, 12,037 healthcare professional organisations – including GPs, pharmacies and aged-care services – were also connected.
Now the federal Health Department is accelerating the uptake by ensuring every unregistered Australian has a My Health Record unless they opt out of the system.
Patients have just three months – from July 16-October 16 – to opt out. Otherwise, they will be automatically included in the online record.
The move has prompted civil and digital rights groups to raise questions about whether online medical records are secure and safe from privacy breaches.
What is My Health Record?
My Health Record aims to ensure that a person’s medical history and health information is all in one place.
It will hold information about doctors’ visits, medical conditions, medication history, family history, test results and scan reports.
“Health providers such as doctors, specialists, and hospital staff can securely access your record online when they need to treat you,” Dr Bartone said.
“In the case of a health emergency, emergency department doctors will be able to follow special protocols to access your records if you need urgent medical care.”
How secure is your information?
The Department of Health says patients can maintain privacy and control over their My Health accounts by setting security codes.
Settings will allow trusted people – such as family and GPs – to access records. Patients can choose to restrict access by some healthcare organisations, and restrict access to specific documents.
But the Australian Privacy Foundation says the presence of digital security systems is no guarantee that private medical information will be completely safe.
“Recent cybersecurity breaches point to the privacy risks,” APF chair Bruce Baer Arnold said.
“They include the online leaking of Red Cross donors’ private details, which in some cases contained information about people’s sexual practices.
“More recently, almost 50,00 Australian employees had their personal records, including names, passwords, IDs, credit card numbers and salary levels, publicly exposed by a third-party contractor. Those kinds of breaches could well occur with My Health records, too.”
An Australian Digital Health Agency spokesperson told The New Daily that there had never been a breach of the My Health Record system.
“The health records are protected from unauthorised access and guarded against cyber-attacks via security controls, including encryption, secure gateways and firewalls, authentication mechanisms, and malicious content filtering,” the spokesperson said.
What happens if you don’t opt out?
A patient’s My Health account will be activated when they log on for the first time or when their doctor accesses their records.
They can then choose to upload up to two years’ worth of Medicare, prescription and immunisation information.
A doctor can activate a patient’s account only with their authority. In those cases, the two years of records will automatically be uploaded.
Patients who opt out initially and then change their mind can register for a My Health Record digital account later.
Patients can also register for email updates about opting out of the system.