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E-health records could be used in court cases

By April 6, 2016No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

The Department of Health’s rollout of automatic digital health records for all Australians has been criticised by privacy groups as being open to exploitation and potential use in litigation. The health e-record, My Health Record, is currently an opt-in system being used by over 2.7 million Australians across the country, but an opt-out system is now also to be trialled among 1 million residents of the Blue Mountains and Far North Queensland, beginning in June. Depending on the success of the opt-out trial, the system is planned to go national with all Australians being given the centralised digital health record.

The e-health record will contain sensitive medical information regarding Australians’ health status, medicine use, diagnostic details, treatments and allergies to ultimately form a shared summary prepared by a GP, including scan and pathology results and other medical test information. Doctors, hospitals, dentists, physiotherapists, dieticians, other health services will have access to the information, unless patients choose to opt-out, a process which may be difficult to navigate for vulnerable members of the community.

Despite the opt-out feature, there will be a lifesaving, emergency ‘break glass’ option allowing doctors to overcome patient vetoes on the release of information, for example such as in medical emergencies like anaphylaxis, heart attack, stroke or situations where patients are rendered unconscious.

But privacy groups are concerned the information could be misused. With highly sensitive information such as details of mental health treatment, sexually transmitted diseases, abortions or other private health matters being included in the record, groups such as the Australian Privacy Foundation argue Australians may not understand the full impact of the centralised health record, given the Department of Health can disclose the information to law enforcement bodies in connection with criminal cases, tax and court matters. The fear is that lawyers in divorce cases or insurance companies may attempt to access the information for use in court cases.

The Royal Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatrists has warned a Senate Committee in a submission that it could leave patients vulnerable, saying:

“There is a growing trend for solicitors to issue subpoenas of broad scope to obtain sensitive health information, often to be used in family law proceedings to ‘dig up dirt’ on estranged spouses. The PCEHR, being a centralised location for much of the patient’s health information, leaves patients particularly vulnerable.”

While letters regarding the opt-out feature have been sent to those included in the trial, it’s currently not possible to opt out, as the government’s website won’t be operational until April 4.

(Read more: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/national/ehealth-record-trial-could-have-troubling-implications-for-aussies/news-story/10ff410b9382af88e71e4dd0615f2b28)

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