Measures should be put in place now to ensure private health insurers can never get their hands on data in Australia’s controversial e-health records system, the nation’s most powerful doctors’ group says.
The Australian Medical Association has made the push at a parliamentary inquiry examining the My Health Record system.
“We think that call can be made right now,” AMA medical practice director Luke Toy told the inquiry on Tuesday.
There are currently strict restrictions blocking private health insurers from accessing the data, with people’s identities removed.
But the framework that dictates those restrictions and how the data can be used by third parties more broadly is up for review in 2020.
Mr Toy said the group would like the framework to be made permanent, and only able to be changed through parliament.
De-identified data is currently available to accredited educational and university bodies to assist with research and policy development.
The AMA’s concerns follow a promise by Health Minister Greg Hunt last month to change laws so police and government agencies will need a court order to obtain patient data.
Former AMA president Dr Kerryn Phelps told the inquiry that turnaround suggested the system needs to undergo a complete review to identify any other “landmines”.
“Only a full review of the legislation and all of its possible implications now and in the future will be acceptable,” she said.
Dr Phelps, who also wants the opt-out period for the system extended to a year, dismissed claims the main problem is how the government has communicated the system’s merit to the community.
“The problem is the content, or to be more precise the lack of content. It’s also about the lack of protections for privacy and security.”
Software engineering academic Dr Robert Merkel said issues with the system – such as the complexities of deleting information – should be dealt with now, before the mass rollout continues.
“Trying to make major changes to a system that’s already in operation is going to be a long, slow process,” he said.
My Health Record came under fire when it was due to be fully rolled out, over concerns people’s data would not be protected adequately.
The government last month supported the Greens in referring the issue to the Senate’s community affairs committee, which is looking at privacy concerns and other issues with the system.