Ten months after announcing its plan, the Turnbull Government has launched its revamped version of the previous Labor Government’s inelegantly-titled Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) which promises to improve safety and communication, reduce duplication and save lives.
As promised, it has a new name, if not a new logo. In keeping with the ‘personalised’ naming convention so popular with governments today, it is now called My Health Record.
But the key feature differentiating My Health Record from its predecessor is the way it is being introduced.
While the PCEHR was introduced as an opt-in initiative where everyone had to actively decide to set up their own ehealth record, the new record works on an opt-out basis. That means we will all be automatically signed up and if you don’t want to keep it, you’ll have to actively take the steps to opt-out.
Announcing the official launch earlier this month, Minister for Health, Sussan Ley took a swipe at the previous Labor Government for its decision to go with the opt-in system for the PCEHR when it was first introduced in July 2012, saying it led to less-than one-in-10 Australians signing up.
The new My Health Record was described as “part of a $485 million Budget rescue package to salvage Labor’s failed attempts to develop a national electronic health records system,” while they were in Government.
Tackling privacy challenges
True, it was the wrong way to do it and take-up was, not surprisingly, sluggish; but it’s also true that it was a tough job getting all the various stakeholders on board and in agreement. Vocal concerns from various quarters about the privacy and security of information held on the record was the main impediment. The opt-in system, when presented by then Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, seemed like a desperate last-ditch interim measure, just to get it over the line.
Fast forward four years and, while many of the issues have not been resolved, hopefully things have evolved.
Ms Ley’s message at the launch focussed strongly on measures being taken to protect patient privacy , including passing supporting legislation mandating fines of up to half a million dollars and possible jail sentences for anyone who tries to deliberately misuse or access information in the health record. Patients will also be able to view every person who has opened the record and delete files that are unwanted.
Stage is set
The politics of Australia’s e-health strategy is irrelevant in the end. In reality, all sides of politics are in agreement that an electronic health record is central to a modern health system, delivering not only huge efficiencies, reduced duplication and improved coordination but greatly improved patient safety and quality of health care.
As the Minister said, an electronic health record, “means people will not have to remember the names of the medications prescribed, details of diagnosis and treatments, allergies, medical procedures and there will be no need to repeat the same information when they see another doctor or go to hospital.”
“It’s important Australians are able to have access to their medical records and safely and securely share them with health professionals no matter where they are in the country if we are to truly improve clinical outcomes and efficiency,” Ms Ley said.
Trial phase a first step
The new My Health Record system won’t be fully introduced until a trial has been completed.
The trial will involve the automatic creation of electronic health records for more-than one million residents in Western Sydney and North Queensland.
Under the trial, patients will be able to share vital health information securely online, at any time, with authorised healthcare providers, such as doctors, pharmacists, specialists, hospitals or allied health professionals.
According to the Minister, residents in the Northern Queensland Primary Health Network and Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network will shortly be receiving a letter informing them of the trial and telling them how they can opt out if they choose.
By mid-June 2016 residents participating will be able to change their access controls to the record, ahead of their doctor accessing the My Health Record in mid-July 2016.
However, patients would have ultimate control over who accessed their information, including adding additional password protections, Minister Ley said.
Bring it on
I am unashamedly in favour of the electronic health record – naturally with all the right protections in place. I don’t want to end up unconscious or unable to communicate in a hospital one day with the treating doctors not knowing anything about my codeine intolerance or other possibly important aspects of my health and medical history which may one day arise.
I don’t want to have to write lists and keep a diary to try to remember what treatments, tests or medications I might have had and when I had them. I know from experience that I can forget things and get things wrong!
I would like to have my advance care directive uploaded and clearly visible (something not yet available as I understand it). I would like to be able to add comments of my own and share parts of my record with other health professionals when it makes good sense.
Having had the same GP for 22 years, I have been fortunate not to be too distanced from that information – indeed it is a comfort that my GP can look up my electronic patient record in the practice’s system to check times and due dates for things for me and for my family. I would welcome the opportunity to be able to access this information myself.
It makes perfect sense. Bring it on.
You can find out more about My Health Record by visiting its website at this link.
Key Facts and Features (supplied by Minister for Health, Sussan Ley):
- $485 million over three years – the first time a Government has committed multiple years of funding to assist the roll out of this important system.
- 2.6 million Australians already have a record
- This will instantly increase to 3.6 million, as a result of these trials – a 40 per cent increase.
- The additional one million users co-opted into the system include about:
- 360,000 residents in the Nepean region of Western Sydney (Nepean Blue Mountains PHN).
- 700,000 residents in North Queensland (North Queensland PHN – covering Mackay up to Cape York/Torres Strait)
- Nearly 8,000 healthcare providers are registered to use it
- The new My Health Record seamlessly connects with GP and hospital systems
- Redesigned user interface – easier to navigate online platform
- New GP training and incentives
- Stronger privacy controls for YOUR My Health Record:
- Password protection
- Lock down access to specific GPs or hospitals
- View every person who has opened the record
- Delete files that are unwanted
- New criminal penalties for deliberate misuse
- Fines up to half a million dollars per breach for deliberate misuse or access
- If all Australians are signed up to a functioning My Health Record, it is estimated that it could save 5,000 lives per year and could help avoid:
- 2 million primary care and outpatient visits
- 500,000 emergency department visits
- 310,000 hospital admissions
- Potentially, $7.6 billion annual savings and improved value and efficiency in healthcare expenditures by 2020 could also be achieved by reducing medical duplication and adverse events. For example:
- Around 10.4% of patients every year treated by a GP will have an adverse drug event
- As many as 18,000 Australians die each year as a result of adverse drug events
- With My Health Record patients receive better care, and therefore forecast to save $2.8 billion annually through reduction of medical errors