The government will be responsible for managing records containing only an overview of a patient's medical history, not every piece of information.
The federal government is likely to manage a national database to store the summaries of electronic health records belonging to millions of Australians.
But more comprehensive records won't be stored in one central location.
Rather, patient information will be kept by individual doctors, pathologists and chemists across the country.
It will only be brought together electronically when patients or their doctors search the planned national e-health system using a 16-digit identification number.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon today unveiled a blueprint outlining how the system could operate from mid-2012.
It makes it clear that clinical documents will be stored "within a number of secure repositories".
Roxon said Labor doesn't believe the government should have a central database storing every piece of information.
But it probably will be responsible for managing "standard records" containing an overview of a patient's medical history.
Everyone who opts to use the e-health system will have one of these summaries.
They'll contain information such as current medications, allergies and major conditions.
Hospitals will be able to access the standard record in an emergency without seeking permission from the patient.
"I think it's most likely that the government will need to run that," Roxon said of the summary records database.
"I don't think there's necessarily a commercial interest for others to be able to set that up. Only the commonwealth has the over-arching interest."
More comprehensive records won't be stored centrally at all.
Instead, individual documents will be held by different healthcare providers or their professional bodies.
To protect privacy, searches will only be permitted by a patient using their own access code, or someone authorised to use it, such as a partner, carer or doctor.
Roxon insists the software required to link this massive web of small repositories is "on track".
"They will all store various bits of information and it will all be able to be called up and connected to your individual record," she said.
Health providers will only be able to access those documents which patients want them to.
But for the first time, patients will be able see what their doctor has written about them and make their own notes.
Feedback on the blueprint, called the Concept of Operations, can be submitted to the government via yourhealth.gov.au until the end of May.
Labor and health experts agree that electronic health records have the potential to save money and lives by reducing duplication and improving patient care.Do you have an idea for a story?
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