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Consumers hear competing advice on My Health Record opt out

Australians can now opt out of My Health Record.

Starting today and for the next three months, the Australian Digital Health Agency is giving all consumers the opportunity to decide whether they want an online summary of their key health information.

Professor Meredith Makeham, chief medical adviser to the Digital Health Agency, said people can choose which healthcare information they’d like to store in their My Health Record and who they’d like to share it with.

“My Health Record aims to deliver better healthcare outcomes and safer care for people," Makeham said. "It will reduce harm caused by medication errors because people and their healthcare providers will have access to important information about medicines and allergies. This could save your life in an emergency.”

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) acting chief executive Dr Linc Thurecht said the record had the potential to reduce hospital admission, adverse drug events and duplication of diagnostic tests and could also result in better coordination of care among multiple healthcare providers while leading to more informed decisions being made.

Thurecht said: "It won’t be an overnight success because the usefulness of each person’s record will depend on the amount of information put there by individual healthcare providers and consumers. But we think that with active use and updating, My Health Record has the potential to be very empowering for both clinicians and patients."

AHHA strongly encouraged consumers to keep and maintain their My Health Record.

“Overall, we think that the My Health Record, with its inbuilt privacy and security controls set by the consumer, balances the need for better information and coordination of care, with the right to privacy,” Thurecht said.

Digital Rights Watch was less confident.

The group, which aims to defends digital rights in Australia, marked the beginning of the opt-out period by urging people to be aware of what it deemed “deeply concerning” privacy issues.

Chair Tim Singleton Norton said Digital Rights Watch is encouraging everyone to consider opting out.

“A range of privacy concerns have been raised in relation to this system since it was first proposed years ago,” Singleton Norton said. “Despite this, no guarantees have being given that individual citizens' personal information will be kept safe and secure.

“Health information is incredibly attractive to scammers and criminal groups. Creating such a massive database of Australian’s personal, private health information is highly likely to become a target in the future.”

National Rural Health Alliance chief executive Mark Diamond said having access to a digital health record was particularly important for people who live in rural and remote areas and implored them to not opt out despite the reports of privacy risk associated with the service.

“If you live outside a major city, you have less access to health services, and are more likely to delay getting medical treatment. That means you’re more likely to end up being hospitalised.

“A My Health Record means that all your important health information is at the fingertips of your doctor, nurse or surgeon,” Diamond said.

While he said there is always a risk with online information, he added that the Alliance is satisfied that the Digital Health Agency is “using the most robust security measures to safeguard people’s health records, and the risk associated with My Health Record is small".

As of July 1, more than 5.9 million Australians and nearly 13,000 healthcare professional organisations were registered with My Health Record. By the end of the year, a record will be created for every Australian who decides not to opt out.

The opt-out period ends on October 15 this year but consumers can continue to do so at any time in the future.

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