MHR security under the spotlight

data representation with lock

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone has again defended My Health Record, as up to 20,000 Australians opted out on the first day they could

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reportedly told 3AW radio in Melbourne that around 20,000 people had opted out of the new system on Monday, despite a “glitch” in the system which returned error.

Between 16 July and 15 October, Australians have the ability to choose for a record not to be created for them.

During an interview with Health Minister Greg Hunt, ABC journalists attempted to sign onto the system and received an error message.

Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King called the first 24 hours of the opt-out period a “disaster”.

Mr Turnbull told 3AW that he understood the glitch had been resolved.

Speaking to Sky News’ Ashleigh Gillon, Dr Tony Bartone said that “what we need to remember in all of this is that this is a new attempt, or a new system, to try and bring together a lot of information that currently exists in many different parts of the health system into an online, one-repository forum to assist doctors, especially doctors who don’t have a relationship with the patient in front of them in an emergency situation or in an unforeseen circumstance, to do the best they can, and with all of the available information that’s around in the system about that patient”.

“No one can guarantee the ultimate security of any system and I’m not an IT security expert,” he said.

“But it’s a balance between usability and utility versus all the benefits of having that secure, reliable source of summary of all the health data that can be brought together in the one place in time.”

He said that it was vital that Australians understand that individuals cannot use the record to check up on others unless there is “a relationship and an express authority to do that”.

He said that he did not believe private health insurance companies would be able to access the record in the future, “unless obviously the patient wants to share particular parts of his or her file, or his or her journey with their insurer”.

Meanwhile, mental health peak bodies are warning people with mental illness to opt out if they have concerns about privacy.

“We’ve joined together to tell people with mental illness: if you’re in doubt, opt out,’ says Shauna Gaebler, CEO of CoMHWA, the West Australian peak body for mental health consumers.

“My Health Record increases the risk of discrimination and health inequalities for people with mental illness. Until we know there are reliable protections, and answers to our concerns, we can’t ethically encourage people to stay in this system,” Ms Gaebler said.

“Our members face discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives,” said Maggie Toko, CEO of VMIAC, the Victorian peak body.

“We die 20 years younger than the average Australian, in part because many health workers can’t see past a diagnosis of mental illness to look for signs of physical health problems.”

She says that this is a phenomenon called ‘diagnostic overshadowing’, which is well known to contribute to delayed diagnosis of many life-threatening conditions, including cancer.

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