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Published: 07 November 2018
Author: Nicole Elliott

Can My Health Records system protect domestic violence survivors and the vulnerable?

From 15 November 2018 onwards, every Australian will have an online health record unless they choose to opt out of the service. The move to online health records poses safety fears for some with concerns about cybersecurity hacking.

This move also raises a significant safety concern for sensitive health information and poses an interesting question as to how the system will protect victims of domestic violence. More than 900,000 Australians have already chosen to opt out of the system due to security concerns.

My Health Record enables patients and doctors to upload medical information such as prescriptions, allergies and medical summaries to the records. Not only does this system allow doctors access but also pharmacists, nurses and allied health professionals. There is no mechanism in place to track which individuals are accessing the records, only information on the institution they are representing. The Government has promised patients that their online health data will be safe but cybersecurity experts have warned that no system can be 100 percent secure.

Deadline for opt-out period ends November 15th

With the opt-out period ending on 15 November 2018, it seems many people aren’t aware of this period or the privacy controls that they can set on their records. If you don’t opt out prior to 15 November 2018 you can still decide to opt out at a later point in time, however, the record will be locked and will exist for 30 years after your death. Australians are urged to visit My Health Record and familiarise themselves with the new system prior to the pending deadline.

This system carries great concerns that health information in the wrong hands can have disastrous effects, this is particularly the case for information relating to victims of domestic violence. Information falling into the wrong hands in these circumstances can have deadly consequences. In the case of domestic violence, it would only take an offender to know someone working in a health organisation to access information including addresses.

Security concerns remain

Whilst the Government has invested a lot of money ensuring the system is safe, it is impossible to guarantee. There is an added concern that documents may be downloaded on to treating health practitioners’ systems that may also have inadequate security systems. Patients will be able to control access to the record and can add security measures such as pin codes. There is also the option of receiving an SMS or email any time someone new accesses your record.

The Privacy Commissioner has recommended regularly checking for unexpected or unauthorised access. If you have concerns that there has been an unauthorized access to your records, contact the Australia Digital Health Agency on 1800 723 471.