[LINK] Govt denies records will be stored on Medicare card
brd at iimetro.com.au
Wed Jun 10 09:21:52 EST 2009
Govt denies records will be stored on Medicare card
June 09, 2009
A SPOKESWOMAN for federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has rejected
suggestions the Government is planning to put people's health records on
the Medicare card, blaming misunderstanding and confusion in media reports.
But she failed to rule out plans for a central database of medical
records - a controversial issue that is bound to resurrect the spectre
of bureaucratic control over sensitive personal information that led to
the defeat of the Howard government's health and welfare services Access
Rather than patient records being loaded directly onto a computer chip
embedded in each card, as indicated in news stories yesterday, the
spokeswoman said Medicare cards would likely contain the unique personal
identity numbers that give doctors and hospitals access to individual
files stored centrally.
"The theory is that the card will provide access to a central database,
but the details are yet to be worked out," the spokeswoman said.
"Participation in the e-health record system will be voluntary, and the
healthcare identifier will be made as secure as possible, so that
medical records are kept secure."
Ms Roxon's remarks to a Courier-Mail journalist that "every Australian
would be allocated a unique health identifier", most likely on a
chip-card, resulted in a "misleading" reference to the use of Medicare
cards for this purpose, the spokeswoman said.
But Ms Roxon expanded detail on her e-health vision in further
interviews on Sky News and in AAP wire service reports.
According to Sky News, Ms Roxon said there should be "no privacy
concerns over plans for the new medical card, which would be designed to
store a patient's records on one computer chip". People could choose
what procedures or tests were recorded on it, and nominate which health
professionals were able to access the data.
Medicare Australia has been developing a unique healthcare identifier
scheme for patients, doctors and other medical providers since January
2008 under a contract with the National E-Health Transition Authority,
as part of its "building blocks" work on an Australian health
Last December, Ms Roxon and her state counterparts agreed to adopt a
National E-Health Strategy produced by Deloitte after extensive
consultations with stakeholders.
Deloitte does not recommend the creation of a central database; instead
it has designed a distributed repository system that brings together
each patient's data from the various doctors, hospitals, pharmacists or
diagnostic labs they have visited. Over time, the records will be
expanded to form a full patient record.
But so far, Ms Roxon has refused to commit funding for implementation of
a nationwide system, despite Deloitte's estimate that the necessary
infrastructure would cost a modest $1.5 billion over five years,
compared with the nation's total annual health spend of $90 billion.
The minister's spokeswoman told The Australian Ms Roxon was waiting for
"another series of recommendations" to come from the National Health and
Hospitals Reform Commission (NHHRC), which is due to report at the end
But despite the spokeswoman's assurances that "e-health is very much a
priority" for the NHHRC, the commission attracted strong criticism from
medical and consumer groups for failing to mention health IT in its
initial report, and ignoring the fundamental role for electronic systems
in healthcare reform.
In what was seen as another misstep, a paper rushed out by the NHHRC in
April urged the federal Government to mandate the use of
"person-controlled" e-health record systems available from commercial
software providers like Microsoft and Google rather than proceeding with
the national strategy. Cost savings may be an issue, as under the new
proposal patients would pay for their own e-health records.
Meanwhile, Ms Roxon might ponder the fate of the Coalition's planned
HealthConnect system -- based on a Medicare smartcard launched with much
fanfare by then health minister Tony Abbott late in 2004 and quietly
scrapped by mid-2006.
More than $4.5 million was spent developing the smartcard, which
featured a chip offering far greater data capacity than the magnetic
strips still used on Medicare cards. The chip was intended to support a
range of health-related applications, and include a PIN for user access
to personal health records over the web or via kiosks in doctors'
waiting rooms and Medicare offices.
Piloted in Tasmania, plans for a nationwide rollout were dropped when
only one per cent of eligible Tasmanians expressed interest in
registering for the card.
Then-Human Services minister Joe Hockey had another go at introducing a
smartcard after Medicare became part of his portfolio; his $1.1 billion
Access Card program was eventually rejected as a national identity
scheme in the same vein as the long-discredited Australia Card.
brd at iimetro.com.au
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