Medical breaches highlight the privacy breaches

March 28, 2016 |

Protection of personal information by health organisations and health services is, counter intuitively, quite dreadful.

In Australia the e health records system is governed by the  My Health Records Act 2012.    The Government earlier this month announced a graduated move to an opt out system with the the Health Minister in My Health Record gets one million more reasons to sign up announcing a move to an opt out system. The announcement makes specific reference to privacy features that are built into the system.  The problem is, and always has been, that enforcement of compliance with those features has been lax in Australia.

The media release provides:

The number of Australians with a digital health record will jump by more than a million – or 40 per cent – as part of the Turnbull Government’s commitment to improving health outcomes and saving lives through digital innovation and information sharing.

Minister for Health Sussan Ley today officially launched the Turnbull Government’s new My Health Record, which will give both patients and health professionals immediate access to all of their necessary health information on-line to improve co-ordinated care outcomes, reduce duplication and provide vital information in emergency situations.

This will include trialling the automatic creation of electronic health records for more-than one million residents in Western Sydney and North Queensland, to improve coverage rates after the previous Labor Government’s preference to allow patients to opt-in, rather than opt-out, led to less-than one-in-10 Australians signing up.

Ms Ley said the Turnbull Government had particularly focussed on protecting patient privacy as part of the new My Health Record, passing supporting legislation mandating fines of up to half a million dollars and even jail sentences for anyone who tries to deliberately misuse or access information in the health record.

“It’s important Australians are able to have access to their medical records and safely and securely share them with health professionals no matter where they are in the country if we are to truly improve clinical outcomes and efficiency,” Ms Ley said.

“Our new My Health Record means people will not have to remember the names of the medications prescribed, details of diagnosis and treatments, allergies, medical procedures and there will be no need to repeat the same information when they see another doctor or go to hospital.

“I consider this a landmark turning point in improving our health system and bringing it into the 21st century.”

The Turnbull Government’s new My Health Record is part of a $485 million Budget rescue package to salvage Labor’s failed attempts to develop a national electronic health records system in Government, with the decision to transform the system from opt-in to opt-out a key recommendation of an independent review of Labor’s scheme.

Under the trial, patients will be able to share vital health information securely online, at any time, with authorised healthcare providers, such as doctors, pharmacists, specialists, hospitals or allied health professionals.

However, Ms Ley said patients would have ultimate control over who accessed their information, including adding additional password protections.

“Doctors have indicated they’re much more likely to use the system if all their patients have a record,” Ms Ley said.

“We also need full national coverage if we’re to cut down on inefficiencies created by not having one seamless records system, such as double ups with testing, prescriptions and other procedures.

“The Turnbull Government takes privacy very seriously and we have put in place the necessary protections to ensure the information in your My Health Record is as safe and secure as possible. Trialling the implementation of the new opt-out system is about reassuring the public they can have confidence in our new My Health Record.”

Ms Ley said a life-saving “break-glass option” was included in the new My Health Record, allowing patients to have maximum security protections whilst also not having to worry about blocking access to their vital information in medical emergencies such as anaphylaxis, heart attacks, stroke or accidents where a patient is unconscious.

Residents in the Northern Queensland Primary Health Network and Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network will shortly be receiving a letter informing them of the trial and telling them how they can opt out if they choose. By mid-June 2016 residents participating will be able to change their access controls to the record, ahead of their doctor accessing the My Health Record in mid-July 2016.

Key Facts and Features:

  • $485 million over three years – the first time a Government has committed multiple years of funding to assist the roll out of this important system.
  • 2.6 million Australians already have a record
  • This will instantly increase to 3.6 million, as a result of these trials – a 40 per cent increase.
  • The additional one million users co-opted into the system include about:
    • 360,000 residents in the Nepean region of Western Sydney (Nepean Blue Mountains PHN).
    • 700,000 residents in North Queensland (North Queensland PHN – covering Mackay up to Cape York/Torres Strait)
  • Nearly 8,000 healthcare providers are registered to use it
  • The new My Health Record seamlessly connects with GP and hospital systems
  • Redesigned user interface – easier to navigate online platform
  • New GP training and incentives
  • Stronger privacy controls for YOUR My Health Record:
    • Password protection
    • Lock down access to specific GPs or hospitals
    • View every person who has opened the record
    • Delete files that are unwanted
    • New criminal penalties for deliberate misuse
    • Fines up to half a million dollars per breach for deliberate misuse or access
  • If all Australians are signed up to a functioning My Health Record, it is estimated that it could save 5,000 lives per year and could help avoid:
    • 2 million primary care and outpatient visits
    • 500,000 emergency department visits
    • 310,000 hospital admissions
  • Potentially, $7.6 billion annual savings and improved value and efficiency in healthcare expenditures by 2020 could also be achieved by reducing medical duplication and adverse events. For example:
    • Around 10.4% of patients every year treated by a GP will have an adverse drug event
    • As many as 18,000 Australians die each year as a result of adverse drug events
    • With My Health Record patients receive better care, and therefore forecast to save $2.8 billion annually through reduction of medical errors

It is interesting to note that in the last fortnight there have been ample examples of data breaches overseas involving health organisations and systems. A sample of the instances are  Dozens of Newcastle patients’ medical records go missing after van blunder,  Mercy Iowa City warns patients of privacy breach,  JASACare Email System Breach Impacts 1,154 Patients and Ontario hospital website may have infected visitors with ransomware, security firm says. In the United States and the UK there are strong protections in the health sphere.  That has not been sufficient to stop the steady instances of data breaches and other privacy violations.

One Response to “Medical breaches highlight the privacy breaches”

  1. Medical breaches highlight the privacy breaches | Australian Law Blogs

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