ACTU allege potential of privacy interference regarding medical records

November 15, 2012 |

The ACTU has raised concerns regarding medical treatment of workers.  One issue is the interference with worker’s medical records.

The story, Employers interfering in medical treatment: ACTU provides:

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is holding a summit in Melbourne to tackle what it says is a growing trend for employers to interfere in their workers’ medical treatment.

It says it has had complaints from the postal, construction and manufacturing sectors.

Some employers are insisting workers visit company-approved doctors and hand over their entire medical history.

The ACTU says in some cases, employers accompany workers to medical appointments.

ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick says it is an invasion of privacy.

“We’re going to be, in the near future, engaging with the privacy commissioner,” he said.

“It runs across a whole number of areas of law, privacy, workers compensation, occupational health and safety and medical services, so it’s not going to be a straight forward solution.”

The basis of the story is a press release which provides:

An ACTU Work Health Rights summit in Melbourne today will discuss ways to tackle the growing trend of employers interfering in their workers’ medical treatment.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said that the summit, which would involve unions, and the Australian Medical Association, would hear of cases where employers had compromised workers’ rights to privacy and proper medical treatment.

“How would you feel if your boss insisted on accompanying you when you saw the doctor for a workplace injury, or demanded access to your entire medical history?” Mr Borowick said.

“These invasions of privacy are becoming more and more common, and employees are often too intimidated to resist them.”

“There is a growing trend of employers insisting injured workers visit company-approved doctors rather than a worker’s own doctor.”

“This can lead to substandard care that is focussed on employers’ needs, rather than the health of the patient.”

”We’ve also had reports of doctors being pressured to change medical certificates and return-to-work plans.”

The summit will hear of employees are subject to intrusive and discriminatory behaviours by employers including:

•    Employers or their representatives attending medical appointments with workers

•    Injured workers being subject to constant medical assessments even after their doctor has cleared them to return to work

•    Growth of Doctor Networks, funded by employers, and concerns that these are providing substandard care and sending injured workers back to work too soon

•    Employers seeking access to ALL of a worker’s health information rather than that directly linked to a workplace injury

•    Employers inappropriately sharing medical information with third parties, such as insurers and superannuation funds

Fair Work Australia earlier this year found against Boral, after it insisted on sending a supervisor to accompany a worker to the doctor when he sought treatment for a workplace injury. Fair Work Australia found this policy placed “undue pressure” on the employee.

Mr Borowick said today’s summit would discuss what changes were needed to protect workers, including amendments to the Privacy Act to protect workers’ privacy.

 “This is a clear sign of the importance of this issue and the growing concern amongst unions and the medical profession that patient privacy is being compromised by some employers.”

An employer, or anyone else, demanding access to all medical records of an employee where it is not relevant for the purpose of litigation (eg part of the discovery process) would be an inteference with that person’s privacy.  That there are employer approved doctors is hardly a novel development.  Even so the ethical and legal constraints of employer/employee approved or supported medical practitioners override any connection with any person or company.  That a company would fund or establish a medical practice does not vary doctor patient privilege or vary the operation of the, say, Health Records Act (Vic) or Privacy Act 1988.

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