Minister moves on MHR privacy

data representation with lock

The Health Minister is working with stakeholders such as doctor groups to address concerns about privacy and security

At a doorstop with reporters this week, Health Minister Greg Hunt said that “I’ve spoken to both the President of the AMA and the incoming President of the College of GPs today, and I’ll be meeting with each of them next week to talk about their concerns and any suggestions they have for strengthening the current situation”.

Mainstream media have reported on confusion as to whether law enforcement would be able to access an individual’s My Health Record without a warrant, while concerns have also been expressed about whether insurers will have access.

When asked whether a doctor working for an insurer could pass a patient’s MHR data to the insurer, Mr Hunt said that would be illegal.

“Secondly, there’s a digital footprint and thirdly, documents can’t be produced without a court order. That’s the clear practice and policy of the agency, it has been for six years. It is the case and it will continue to be the case. It’s illegal for insurers to access the My Health Record,” he said.

He said that the system – as opt-in – has been running for six years already with no data breaches.

newsGP reports that the RACGP president-elect, Dr Harry Nespolon, has written to members regarding his communication with the Minister on the subject.

“In response to my initiative, the minister has agreed to work to satisfactorily strengthen the privacy provisions governing My Health Record in regards to the legislation, in line with government policy and practice,” he wrote.

The Consumers Health Forum said it welcomed news that the Federal Government would move to address privacy concerns.

“The success of MHR relies very much on people’s trust that their medical information will be protected,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells said.

“Mr Turnbull says if refinements are needed, they would be made. We believe Section 70 of the My Health Records Act 2012 needs to be tightened so that access to medical records for non-healthcare reasons is governed by law and judicial oversight and not left to be subject to agency policy.

“This change should be welcomed by the public and by the system operator as a means of assuring greater certainty concerning access to MHR records.

“The Prime Minister is correct to say that the MHR legislation has had bipartisan support for a long time.

“However since the MHR legislation was first introduced six years ago, community attitudes and concerns about cybercrime and hacking have become much more heightened.

“The safeguards for MHR must reflect community concerns about risk in order to nurture the public trust that MHR depends on to become an effective and central part of a modern healthcare system.”

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association also warned that public trust in the system will be lost without swift action.

“While it is reassuring that Health Minister Greg Hunt and the ADHA have reiterated their internal policy position that no data will be released without a court order, this safeguard must be protected by legislation,” says AHHA Acting Chief Executive, Dr Linc Thurecht.

“We do not doubt the current intention, nor its sincerity—but governments change, ministers change, and the head of the ADHA may change. ADHA policy can be changed at the stroke of an administrative pen, whereas legislation cannot.”

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