Australians should be given another year to opt out of the My Health Record system before a digital medical file is automatically created for them, a Senate committee has recommended.
- Greens senator Rachel Siewart says people must be in a position to make a fully informed decision around My Health Record
- Health Minister Greg Hunt rejects the call for an extension so as not to “delay the benefits to patients”
- Nearly 1 million Australians have already opted out
Every Australian with a Medicare card will automatically be given a record containing their medical history unless they opt out by mid-November.
But the committee has demanded that time frame be extended to boost awareness of the scheme, particularly among vulnerable groups.
“[We are] making sure that people are fully aware of their options and of what the My Health Record means,” Greens senator Rachel Siewert said.
“That will enable people to make fully informed decisions, but also making sure it gives the Government time to take up some of the recommendations,” Senator Siewert said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has rejected the call for a 12-month extension so as to not “delay the benefits to patients”.
“The opt-out date has already been extended and the opt outs are travelling at a significantly lower rate than expected,” a spokeswoman said.
The committee also proposed changes to ensure teenagers’ medical details would not be automatically visible to their parents.
When a teenager turns 14 they must typically give consent for parents to access their Medicare information, but now parents can register their child for a My Health Record and potentially administer it until age 18.
While Medicare data stops flowing into records at age 14 if a parent still controls the record, critics fear other information such as medication lists uploaded by doctors could remain visible to carers.
Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said Labor supported tightening access to teenagers’ records.
“Particularly as they go from their young ages, into their adolescence, and into adulthood, they start to have their own privacy around some [medical] issues,” Ms King said.
“I think the Government really does need to heed the report that has come out.
“The utility of this system will be useless if the Australian public has no faith in it.”
Last month it was revealed nearly a million Australians had decided against getting a My Health Record.
The two-month inquiry heard from nearly 120 individuals and groups, amid concerns from health and privacy groups.
The committee was dominated by non-Government senators and made recommendations including:
- Strengthening the rules to prevent data being used for commercial purposes.
- Limiting the information available to government departments for data-matching purposes.
- Better informing the public about the benefits and risks, along with the steps people can take to improve their privacy within the system.
Government senators also dismissed calls to tighten access to records by applying pin codes to My Health Record accounts by default.
With a so-called “record access code”, patients can restrict the number of health professionals who can view their record.
For example, without such a code in place, a person’s podiatrist could view somebody’s sexual or mental health history.
But in a dissenting report, Government senators said: “To realise the full benefits of the My Health Record system, an individual’s multiple healthcare providers need to have timely and comprehensive access to their patients’ medical history.”