Is My Health Record secure?

data representation with lock

There is no guarantee that My Health Record will not be breached, says one expert closely involved with the system

Dr Steve Hambleton, deputy chair of the My Health Record expansion program, has told Fairfax Media that “I guess I can’t guarantee that there’s not a hole somewhere,” when it comes to the potential for a data breach.

He said that while a potential breach is possible, it would likely pertain to “individual records” rather than the entire My Health Record system.

From today (Monday 16 July) until 15 October 2018 Australians have the ability to opt out of the My Health Record. By the end of 2018, a My Health Record will be created for every Australian, unless they choose not to have one.

To date, more than 5.9 Australians already have a My Health Record and 12,860 healthcare professional organisations are connected, including general practices, hospitals, pharmacies, diagnostic imaging and pathology practices.

The system has been previously described as a “game-changer” for pharmacy and likely to significantly reduce fragmentation of care for individuals.

Professor Meredith Makeham, family General Practitioner and Chief Medical Adviser to the Australian Digital Health Agency said, “My Health Record empowers Australians by giving them secure access to their own healthcare information and supports them in managing their health conditions.

“People can choose which healthcare information they’d like to store in their My Health Record and who they’d like to share it with,” said Prof Makeham.

“My Health Record aims to deliver better healthcare outcomes and safer care for people. It will reduce harm caused by medication errors because people and their healthcare providers will have access to important information about medicines and allergies. This could save your life in an emergency.

“My Health Record will help people with chronic and complex health conditions have better coordinated care. It will enable all of their clinicians to see the same healthcare information. This should also reduce avoidable hospital admissions and the unnecessary duplication of pathology and imaging investigations.”

As well as Dr Hambleton, Fairfax Media also spoke to infectious diseases physician Trent Yarwood, who said that there were “problems” with My Health Record from a privacy perspective.

“I don’t think a lot of doctors understand that medical records they upload to My Health Record in good faith — because they want to improve patient care — could potentially be used against people for administrative reasons in a way that they would never ever be happy that their paper records would be used,” he said.

Fairfax contributor Ben Grubb also wrote a piece explaining why he will opt out of the system, citing data breaches as a concern.

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone told ABC Radio Melbourne that the issue of privacy “needs to be taken seriously” but that My Health Record was more secure than online banking.

“We all now barely blink at the concept of doing all of our transactions online and it’s in that kind of sort of context,” he told Jacinta Parsons and Sami Shah.

“If we make it too secure, if we make it too foolproof, we reduce the utility of the situation.

“And remember this is a concept that’s actually going to save lives. For example, if someone was unconscious in an emergency department on the other side of the country, well, there’s an opportunity to—and you’ve got a My Health Record, it can be viewed in an emergency situation, give important clinical details about medications you’re on or previous allergies or previous situations.

“So, we need to sort of balance the risk of our own privacy versus the risk of not knowing information and having duplication of medications miscommunication.”

He said there were strict regulations around the aggregation or secondary use of deidentified data, and that access by commercial organisations such as insurance companies were an “absolute no-go zone”.

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Acting Chief Executive Dr Linc Thurecht also spoke out in favour of the system.

“Overall, we think that the My Health Record, with its inbuilt privacy and security controls set by the consumer, balances the need for better information and coordination of care, with the right to privacy,” Dr Thurecht said.

“Consumers can control who can view their record and what parts of it can be viewed, while also being able to delete entries from their My Health Record.”

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