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09 Aug 2018

During a private twilight meeting in Melbourne three weeks ago, AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, put a strong demand directly to Health Minister Greg Hunt – fix the privacy provisions of the legislation or the My Health Record (MyHR) will remain in limbo for years to come.

Dr Bartone had made public his intentions a week earlier at the National Press Club in Canberra when he declared to journalists that he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to force the Government to take action to make the privacy protections of health information as watertight as possible in the digital health age.

The new AMA President stayed true to his word.

With the blessing and support of the AMA Federal Council, Dr Bartone, a Melbourne GP, took a four-point shopping list to the Minister – amend the Act to ensure health data is not disclosed without a warrant or court order; ensure that people who opt-out do not end up with a permanent MyHR; run a public information campaign; and extend the opt-out period.

The Minister, wanting the controversy to end, and ultimately wanting the MyHR to succeed, agreed to all the items and, after obtaining a sign-off from the Prime Minister, he issued a media release to publicly confirm the actions to be taken.

Minister Hunt said the Government will strengthen privacy provisions under the My Health Record Act, and the legislation will be strengthened to match the existing Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) policy.

“This policy requires a court order to release any My Health Record information without consent,” Minister Hunt said.

“The amendment will ensure no record can be released to police or government agencies, for any purpose, without a court order.”

Dr Bartone told ABC Radio AM that “we can now move forward and have certainty around the protections to the privacy of those medical records that our patients expect when they confide their information with us”.

“The assurance that people who opt-out will have their records deleted will hopefully appease concerns in that area,” Dr Bartone said.

“The privacy protection of our records and the security protection of our records is of considerable and paramount importance to us.

“We have protocols and procedures in place. We work with our IT providers to ensure that everything is in compliance and in the utmost preparedness for any cyber attack that we can envisage,” Dr Bartone said.

The AMA will examine the amended legislation carefully to ensure that patient, community, and professional concerns are addressed satisfactorily.

Dr Bartone said that the AMA remains committed to the potential clinical benefits of an electronic health record, but the future of the record depends on getting the security and privacy settings right.

“It would be a tragedy if, after more than a decade of development, we have to go back to square one in building a secure and workable electronic health record.”

Despite Minister Hunt’s announcement, the Labor Opposition is calling for the My Health Record system to be suspended until privacy concerns can be allayed.

Shadow Health Minister, Catherine King, raised concerns that non- custodial parents could create records for their children and use them to locate their children and estranged partners.

“The Government needs to deal with this issue,” Ms King said.


 

John Flannery


Published: 09 Aug 2018