The controversial My Health Record system will save country lives, but a data breach could also ruin them – inciting humiliation and identity theft.
Charles Sturt University Associate Professor of Computing, Tanveer Zia, opted out of the contentious scheme at the earliest opportunity.
He said no online system, bar those of financial institutions, was fully secure and believes the government has focused on privacy but not cyber security.
Dr Zia said while medical professionals would be trained to uphold a patient’s confidentiality, casual, part-time or contracted front office staff might not maintain the same level of care.
He said in an era of mobile phones and passcodes, wherein a phone saves passwords for websites, individuals could effectively hand over all their information by losing their phone
“It’s a big worry,” he said.
“It would only take a little effort to access information if the phone got into the wrong hands.”
Dr Zia said there was significant overseas evidence that electronic health records were not secure.
“Two weeks ago there was a cyber attack in Singapore which compromised 1.5 million records including the Prime Minister’s,” he said.
Dr Zia said many people did not understand the importance of keeping their data secure.
He said financial institutions sites were secure because they spent a lot of money protecting their systems and people realise the value of banking data and take precautions.
Dr Zia said many people don’t put the same value on their health information.
“There’s a lack of user awareness of the skills of hackers and cyber criminals,” he said.
“The scale and severity of the problem with personal data loss is not fully recognised by individuals.
“With the health data, Facebook and Linked In data, someone can put the pieces together and easily take the identity of a person.”
It’s a matter of life and death – and I’d rather be alive.Cathy McGowan, Member for Indi
Dr Zia fears a My Health Record breach would disproportionately affect older Australians, as they might be reliant on other people to opt them out of the system or might not fully understand the dangers of putting personal information online.
He said if a hack occurs and data was leaked, it could lead to people being judged for conditions, past and present, which could affect someone’s employment potential, relationships or public standing.
Last week after meeting with the Australia Medical Association, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced he would toughen laws around My Health Record privacy and who can access files.
Under the change, police and government agencies need a court order to access records.
Dr Zia said these changes do nothing to re-enforce the system’s cyber-security.
“Needing court warrants that’s privacy, not security, it’s not saying the encryption of My Health Record needs to be higher, there’s no talk of that,” he said.
Wangaratta doctor Julian Fidge – who is the Country Party of Australia’s candidate in the Ovens Valley state seat – said his practice was already using the system and none of his patients had raised concerns.
“My Health Records are fantastic,” he said.
“They are really very helpful for patients and improves patients safety.
“It’s set up so it’s easy to upload summaries, it works with the GP software so it automatically generates a report for the electronic health record.”
Dr Fidge said the system was great for regional Australians who often need to travel to major cities to see specialists.
He said patients could now travel to appointments without worrying they, or their doctor, had forgotten a form.
This is not a Big Brother exercise, you are in controlSussan Ley, Member for Farrer and former Health Minister
Dr Fidge said the electronic records ensure the specialist or treating physician knows what tests and scans have been performed, what medicines a patients is on, and what chronic or pre-existing conditions they have.
“I understand anything can be hacked and if you have something in your medical history you would not want to be made public, I understand why you wouldn’t want a public health record held by the government – but if you’re just a normal person, with nothing you’re concerned about the public knowing then it’s no problem,” he said.
“It people were to look at my health history I wouldn’t be concerned, it’s not worth hacking, there’s nothing interesting in it and 90 per cent of people would be the same.”
Dr Fidge said people who were concerned about their data being accessed had the option to opt out, and could always opt in later.
“I do believe the government is taking security very seriously,” he said.
“Health records are controlled by patients, they can go in and delete everything if they want, delete parts or password protect it.”
And while some doctors might argue that these parametres will allow patients to ‘edit’ or ‘fabricate’ their history, Dr Fidge said that was nothing new.
“Most doctors appreciate not everyone tells the truth all the time,” he said.
“We understand people want to tell us what they want us to know and that’s not always everything.
“I’m not concerned if a patient wants to edit their record, it might be a bit dangerous but it is their right.”
Dr Fidge encouraged people to speak to their doctor about My Health Record.
The scale and severity of the problem with personal data loss is not fully recognised by individuals.Dr Tanveer Zia, CSU Associate Professor of Computing
Federal MPs Sussan Ley and Cathy McGowan are both confident in the health system and will remained opted-in.
Ms McGowan said the benefits for regional Australians were clear.
“The importance of my health and my doctor wherever I am having access to my history overrides any security concerns,” she said.
“Probably for me it’s a matter of life and death – and I’d rather be alive.
“I’m a pragmatic farming woman and if I am bitten by a snake I want a doctor to be able to access my records.
“I encourage those of us living in the country to stay in the scheme, it is a matter of life and death and I’d rather my constituents are alive.”
Member for Farrer Sussan Ley worked on the My Health Record development during her time as Health Minister.
She said it enables doctors to give a better quality consultation and takes away the need for doubled-up tests or scans, saving the health system money.
“This is not a Big Brother exercise, you are in control,” Ms Ley said.
“You can go in and suppress information if you don’t want anyone to see – you have control.”
Ms Ley said the Australian system learned from successes and shortcomings of other nations’ electronic records.
She said there was a ‘break glass’ emergency function in My Health Record, that could be used by emergency room doctors when a patient is unconscious or unable to speak that would allow the doctor to access files from a medicare number.
“Any emergency doctor will say it’s terrifying when they don’t know a patient’s history or allergies or what chronic condition could have caused the presentation,” she said. “A My Health Record can save your life.”
Ms McGowan and Ms Ley encouraged anyone with concerns to visit or contact their offices.
Residents can get more information or opt out of the My Health Record system online at www.myhealthrecord.gov.au before October 15.
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