Medical professionals can access records in digital form in the new system. Picture: istock
Medical professionals can access records in digital form in the new system. Picture: istock

The $2b system doomed to fail

EXPERTS are brutally slamming the Australian Government's new health record system they say has been oversold and is so insecure the risk of using it greatly outweighs any benefits.

Australians were invited to choose whether to have their health and medical records added to the new My Health Record on Monday, and have three months to make their decision before records are automatically added to the database.

The rush to opt out of the controversial new system follows privacy concerns over the scheme, which will allow medical records stored on a password-protected database to be viewed by patients, doctors, and other medical staff at any time.

Several experts - from former government staffers to people who worked on the controversial UK system Australia's is based on - warn we now have a "major honey pot of health data" waiting to be hacked or made available on the dangerous dark web.

They say the type of confidential information stored on the record is unlike merely having your identity credentials stolen, "it is like having your whole personhood exposed in terms of your condition, medication, past acts, and more".

Others fear it will cause a "chilling effect" over disclosure of illnesses, meaning the people who need the care the most are disadvantaged from the outset.

The former head of the Turnbull Government's Digital Transformation Office, Paul Shetler, said the system was "flawed" and there had not been a lot of confidence in the government given past data breaches.

The NHS in the UK scrapped its controversial data system after a review raised serious concerns about the program in 2016.

Will you opt out of My Health Record?

This poll ended on 21 July 2018.

Current Results

Yes, I am concerned about my privacy

78%

No, it's useful to have my records in one place

18%

Someone has already created a record for me

2%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

"When it was introduced it was introduced as an opt out system, people didn't like it," Mr Shelter told the ABC.

"They had concerns about their data and ultimately it had to be stopped.

"The (Australian) rollout of this has been significantly flawed, it's got a lot of similarities to what happened in the UK."

He said the blame must be put on the Digital Health Agency, which is responsible for the scheme.

"They clearly have seen what has worked and what hasn't worked in other countries and they didn't learn from the history," he said.

"One of the issues you have right now is that you've spent about $2 billion, and nearly a decade, developing a piece of software without a clearly defined set of needs it meets, either for the practitioner or the patient and as a result you've got to now make it mandatory.

"If it was actually something that met people's needs, then they would be more than willing to sign up for it and pressuring their practitioners to use it - that's not what we're seeing.

"In theory this is a really good idea … but in the light of a whole series of tech wrecks (by the Australian government), it doesn't inspire a whole lot of confidence."

The fact that privacy protection settings are not default but require patients to proactively set up their privacy settings is "problematic," he said.

"When it becomes an opt out system and you find out all your data is on there, and oh by the way, you find out it's all being shared - I think that's one of the flaws. The rollout of this has been significantly flawed.

"If I was Australian I probably wouldn't sign up."

 

Screen grabs from the My Health Record government website. Picture: Supplied
Screen grabs from the My Health Record government website. Picture: Supplied

University of Western Australia director of the Centre for Software Practice Dr David Glance echoed those concerns and said it was not, nor would it ever be, a viable system.

"The move to opt out, in addition to being a major privacy risk for the public, ignores the persistent and significant issues with the implantation of My Health Record," Dr Glance said.

"After all of this time and with the billions of dollars of investment, the majority of the records are largely empty and the majority of health professionals in Australia continue to refuse to support the system."

University of Canberra assistant law professor Bruce Arnold also drew comparisons to the UK, saying the government had learnt nothing from the UK "trainwreck".

"In the UK patients, health practitioners, IT specialists and privacy lawyers alike condemned inadequate governance, misunderstanding of risk and disregard for patient autonomy," Prof Arnold said.

He said the UK had "belatedly heeded those criticisms" but Australia had not.

"The risks of an insecure system that conscripts patients - and assumes de-identification will enable problem-free sale of bulk health data - greatly outweigh those benefits," he said.

Prof Arnold said the legal protection for patient privacy and the IT framework was "inadequate".

"Official expectations that many patients will understand security settings are naive," he said.

"MyHR has been sadly oversold. There's been little effort to provide patients with the basis for meaningfully informed consent.

"That threatens the most fundamental aspect of public health: trust."

Australians who rushed to opt out this week caused the system to have connection issues, with many struggling to complete the process.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that about 20,000 people opted-out of the electronic medical record system on the first day of a three-month opt-out period.

Around six million people are voluntarily registered on the national database since its launch in 2012.

This week Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the system, saying it had military-grade security and people should stick with it.

 

The opt-out period begins today and ends on October 15. Picture: Supplied
The opt-out period begins today and ends on October 15. Picture: Supplied

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