The Australian Senate voted today (November 14) to delay the deadline for opting out of the controversial My Health Record electronic system amid widespread concerns about privacy and the security of the system.
The vote came less than 48 hours before the original deadline for opting out, which was 3am on Friday.
Those who do not wish to be included in the system will now be able to opt out until January 31. After that date, their health records will be automatically uploaded.
Earlier in the week, Labor, backed by the Greens and the Centre Alliance, pushed for the opt-out deadline to be postponed for 12 months, saying they believed that further reforms to the scheme were necessary and that the government had “undermined the public’s trust”.
The My Health Record system has come under considerable public scrutiny since its announcement, with some expressing concerns about the safety and privacy of patients’ personal medical details.
The Opposition health spokeswoman, Catherine King, said today that the government should adopt Labor’s opt-in model.
“Their botched roll-out has seriously undermined public trust in this important reform, and it’s going to take time to rebuild it.”
Liberal Senator Anne Ruston told the Senate earlier this week that anyone wishing to delete their record permanently would still be able to do so after the opt-out deadline, and individuals would still have the right to prevent certain information being uploaded to the system.
Clementine Oss-Emer, a nurse at Byron Central Hospital in northern NSW, said the My Health Record system would be extremely beneficial for medical professionals, especially when they treated the elderly and anyone suffering from confusion or memory loss.
“We often don’t have a thorough history of patients, especially the elderly who suffer from confusion … It’s very helpful when we are able to see their health concerns when they do not remember themselves,” she said.
“People share their whole lives on Facebook and Instagram, but for some strange reason do not want health workers knowing their health issues.
“Working in an acute facility, you get access to the history of the patient, their blood group, past medical history, recent surgical information and mental health records.”
Ms Oss-Emer also said the electronic record system would be beneficial for patients who frequently travelled or who visited several different doctors.
“Many patients have multiple GPs and are often prescribed medications independently … With My Health Record, it groups them together to help prevent medication errors and polypharmacy.”
However, in the 24 hours before the Senate vote, phone lines had reportedly been inundated with calls from people trying to opt out of the system, with several Twitter users describing calling the 1800 number multiple times without success.
Other users, including Chris Roberts of Monash University, made it to the final stages of the opt-out form only for the site to crash.
@MyHealthRec 4 times I've filled out your opt out form and got right to the end b4 your site crashes. Directs me to call and your number disconnects!!! Seriously. This is why I want to opt out. Total incompetence. #MyHealthRecord
— Chris Roberts (@CRoberts11_11) November 14, 2018
Another frustrated Twitter user, Lee Wallace, spent an hour trying to opt out of the system.
“I give up… cut off for a third time, this time at 16 mins. I’ve wasted more than an hour, is that a gov strategy for #MHR?” she wrote. – joe_attanasio