The rollout of Australia's MyHealth Record e-health system is moving from “troubled” towards “shambles”.
In the space of the past few days: The Parliamentary Library has contradicted health minister Greg Hunt on the matter of law enforcement access to health records; Hunt has stuck to his guns nonetheless; the Australian Medical Association wants confirmation of doctor-patient confidentiality; and the federal Labor opposition has taken a small, careful step back from what was previously unqualified bipartisan support for the system.
Both Hunt and the Australian Digital Health Agency have repeatedly said that the agency's policy not to release patient data was what mattered, and that drew this response* from the Parliamentary Library.
“Section 70 of the My Health Records Act 2012 enables the System Operator (ADHA) to ‘use or disclose health information’ contained in an individual’s My Health Record if the ADHA ‘reasonably believes that the use or disclosure is reasonably necessary’ to, among other things, prevent, detect, investigate or prosecute any criminal offence, breaches of a law imposing a penalty or sanction or breaches of a prescribed law; protect the public revenue; or prevent, detect, investigate or remedy ‘seriously improper conduct’”, the library's analysis stated.
The publication continued: “it represents a significant reduction in the legal threshold for the release of private medical information to law enforcement. Currently, unless a patient consents to the release of their medical records, or disclosure is required to meet a doctor’s mandatory reporting obligations (e.g. in cases of suspected child sexual abuse), law enforcement agencies can only access a person’s records (via their doctor) with a warrant, subpoena or court order.”
This can be required not with a court order, the Library said, since the legislation “only requires a reasonable belief that disclosure of a person’s data is reasonably necessary.”
Minister Hunt stuck to his guns, saying the “error” in the library's analysis is the “absolute, unconditional policy and practice of the Digital Health Agency” is to implement data access “to the standard of a court order”.
Hunt played the 'blame the previous government' cards, saying the wording in the legislation was “put in place through the parliament in 2012 under a previous government,” but it was his government's implementation that's going to hold data release to a higher standard, and “that will remain the position, I think, forever.”
Bipartisanship starting to fray?
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has noticed public hostility to the rollout, and after years of MyHealth Record enjoying bipartisan support, he has asked the government to put the rollout on hold.
It's worth remembering that the MyHealth Record was instigated by a former Labor government, and as a result, in spite of its many troubles, the project has enjoyed solid support on both sides of Australian politics.
Oz digital health agency tightens medical record access as watchdog warns of crim honeypotREAD MORE
Shorten led with a nod in that direction, in a doorstop interview, saying: “The principle of having health records digitally stored is a good idea."
However, given the projects current problems: "It would be smart of the government to suspend the rollout of the MyHealth Record until all of the privacy concerns are actually addressed.”
AMA President Dr Tony Bartone, also a strong supporter of the MyHealth Record rollout, has noticed the privacy concerns.
After a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, Dr Bartone said he is seeking a briefing from minister Hunt on the matter of data access.
He said the AMA's members will not tolerate anything that compromises doctor-patient confidentiality, and in spite of written undertakings from the minister and department that court orders are required for access, he wants to eliminate “any ambiguity” over this.
Dr Barone said he wants to seek a meeting with the minister “over the coming days”, and added that he intends to do "whatever it takes" to preserve doctor-patient relationships. ®
*Bootnote: Since this story was posted, the Parliamentary Library link has unaccountably began returning a 404 error. Thankfully, Wayback caught it before it was taken down.