My Health Record: The pros and cons of storing health records online

Posted in Family Health.

The recent announcement from the Government that Australians will have until January 31 to opt-out of the digitised health record platform, My Health Record, seemed to send the country into a bit of a frenzy.

So what is My Health Record, anyway?

In a nutshell, My Health Record is an online summary of an individual’s key health information. It can be accessed anywhere, at any time – even from overseas and stores information regarding medical conditions, pathology results, allergies and even medicine that you are taking at any given time.

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, and discuss the pros and cons of this online system.

The pros

Especially with regards to parents, having all our health-related information located in one place sounds like a very appealing concept. With the system being online, the reduction in paper and physical filing is definitely a draw-card. It would also make documents, reports and results a lot easier to find if they were stored online – rather than having to make physical copies to remember to bring to appointments.

Having professionals all on the same page regarding our health is also appealing. This means less time in appointments spent going over personal history and relaying information, and more time treating the relevant health issues. Not having to act as a go-between for our allied health professionals also sounds fantastic, too.

The cons

While having all of our personal information located in one online space definitely saves on having to repeat ourselves, reducing time spent copying and providing paperwork to medical professionals – there are also potential risks.

One of the main concerns has been regarding the privacy of an online system, with many Australians questioning the security of the system and its propensity to be hacked by external sources – which is a frightening concept in terms of privacy violations. 

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Even the Australian human rights commissioner, Edward Santow, has urged the Federal Government to make changes to the My Health Record, stating that he thinks it could be better.

Many Australians are worried about just where their private information stored online through My Health Record could be used, as well. There have been concerns over private health insurance companies and others potentially accessing the information to use for their own gain. This is labelled as a “secondary use” and currently, users of the My Health Platform can tick a box on the website to opt-out of this.

So who can access the information entered into My Health Record?

According to Section 70 of the My Health Records Act, developed in 2012 – only a System Operator, but even then the relevance of the information they have access to is questionable at best. Taken from the Act, information can be used by an enforcement body with regards to an investigation, prosecution and punishment of criminal offences and even the protection of public revenue.

This means that situations relating to family law, domestic violence cases and even employment can potentially be taken from the My Health Record, without a warrant or court order. What this has to do with an individual’s personal health, is not entirely clear. It seems there are other potential ramifications, as well.

Individuals can choose to restrict access to files by using a Record Access Code or a Limited Document Access Code – but the restriction of information has to be manually done, not by default. And these controls can be overridden in the case deemed as an emergency.

However, privacy issues with the centralised system are already being highlighted, with My Health Record placing newer restrictions on mobile phone apps such as HealthEngine which can use sensitive patient data. Other third-party apps such as Healthi, HealthNow owned by Telstra health and Tyde all have authorisation agreements with My Health Record, also.

At the end of the day, the decision to either remain in the My Health Record system or opt-out is up to the individual. But it is important to be fully informed about who has access to your private health information, and what situations it can be potentially used in.


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