The Australian government plans to move forward with its proposal to create a digital Health Record for every Australian in 2018. My Health Record is a digital online platform that stores critical health information for patients registered in the system. These records can be shared across multiple health providers to allow for seamless coordination of medical treatment.
Currently there are over six million individuals registered in the system, but by the end of this year the Australian government plans to create a health record for every single Australian. The immediate benefits of registering all citizens in a centralised health database are numerous. Healthcare providers will have access to a patient’s health status and current medications and sensitivities, which will allow for a high level of care that is directly tailored to the needs of an individual patient.
Digital health is increasing globally and is a powerful way for governments to better tailor healthcare quality and expenditure to their covered populations. Despite the obvious benefits of a centralised healthcare database for every Australian, however, there are some serious downsides that come along with centralised and digital hubs of personal information.
There are numerous privacy concerns regarding the government’s push to register every Australian into the system by the end of this year. Some of the more prominent privacy concerns involve third-party access to Australian patient health information, such as law enforcement, and commercial entities such as insurance and pharmaceutical companies. The My Health Record website maintains that law enforcement will not be granted health record access without a court order and that third-party access will be restricted to bodies involved in policy, planning, and research purposes only. It remains to be seen what legislation is written to ensure these protections for Australians.
Aside from these privacy issues, cybersecurity remains a large problem. Recently several health platforms have suffered data breaches, such as the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which announced earlier this month that 75,000 users’ data had been compromised, and Singapore’s SingHealth platform, which announced that 1.5 million users’ personal information had been compromised earlier this year.
Cybersecurity is an increasing problem in today’s digital world, and if the Australian government wants to combat this growing problem to reap the rewards of centralised digital health, it will have to take these threats very seriously.
Australians have until November 15 to opt out of the system if they do not wish to have a digital health record created. Current opt-outs sit at just over one million individuals, which is far below what the government expected. It will be important to see if Australians embrace the benefits of digital healthcare, or if the fear of personal data privacy breaches diminishes widespread adoption of this technology.