The federal government’s myHealth Record will be rolled out to around one million people as a trial in Far North Queensland and in the NSW Nepean Blue Mountains region from early 2016.
Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley made the announcement during her address to the Press Club on Wednesday.
The minister also said that the government should be moving towards a giving patients access to and control over their own health data so that they could use the data how they wanted and control who they shared it with.
“What if you, as a consumer, were able to take your personal Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme data to a health care service; to an app developer; to a dietician; to a retailer and say how can you deliver the best health services for my individual needs?” Ms Ley said. “It’s a revolutionary concept in health – but it shouldn’t be – given it’s already happening with industries like finance across the globe.”
She said people could create a customized ‘health portfolio’ of products and services by providing their health data. Applications of this approach could include a doctor using an app to monitor a patient’s blood pressure while they recuperated at home after an operation, or using it to monitor a person’s insulin levels. It could be used by families to make sure a frail, older relative was ok, rather than them going into residential aged care.
“The great digital health revolution lies literally in the palms of consumers,” she said.
“We now live in an age of smartphones, watches and wallets. So, what if we, as government, got out the way and gave consumers full access to their own personalised health data and full control over how they choose to use it?”
myHealth is the resurrection of Labor’s troubled Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record which sucked in $1 billion but only one in ten Australians registered, partly because it was optional.
This time patients will have to opt out if they do not want to be on the system.
The electronic record should mean better co-ordination and communication between health professionals, less duplication and repetition (and fewer errors) on areas such as medications, medical tests and medical history.
“It’s time we reset the agenda when it comes to digital health and innovation and open our minds to the wider possibilities available,” Ms Ley said.
“As consumers, digital health has obvious benefits when it comes to the storage of our personal medical information that will vastly improve the way diseases and conditions are diagnosed and managed for Australian patients.
“This concept is also designed to support doctors and other allied health professionals with accessing patient information at their fingertips, will help deliver better health outcomes for patients the first time and cut down on unnecessary risks and inefficiencies in the system currently frustrating doctors.”
It has been a decade-long, expensive and bumpy ride for electronic medical records in Australia.
The government announced in May this year that the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR), since rebranded myHealth Record, would become an ‘opt out’ digital service rather than patients having to ask for one, in a move backed by the Australian Medical Association.
Although the majority of doctors are supportive of the PCEHR, there have been criticisms over the way the National eHealth Transition Authority’s (NeTHA) has handled the technological platform, so much so that key clinicians staged an unprecedented walk-out from the federal project in August 2013.
The Authority is due to be replaced by the Australian Commission for eHealth in July 2016 with the new Commission taking on myHealth operations and governance from the Department of Health, while Health retains policy control over the program.
There have also been concerns raised about privacy when patient data is centrally held. The Australian Privacy Foundation has also said it could become a national identity number by stealth.
However, the Health Department has underlined that there will be safeguards in place: people can control who accesses their records, request certain information not be uploaded, cancel their registration and monitor if anyone had accessed their data.
Ms Ley also used her Press Club address to launch a public consultation seeking feedback on private health insurance.
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