A federal government agency is struggling to cope as thousands of Australians try to opt out of the revolutionary My Health digital records program.
Taxpayers initially had until tomorrow to tell the Australian Digital Health Agency they didn’t want all of their confidential medical records uploaded to a central database.
The biggest overhaul of Australia’s health system in a generation will make it easier for doctors, with a single password, to more accurately diagnose their patients but domestic violence groups and cyber security experts are worried that safety and privacy could be violated.
Those wishing to opt out are required to provide their Medicare number and driver’s licence details.
The website to opt out, however, was unreliable on Wednesday afternoon.
Health Minister Greg Hunt today announced the deadline would be extended to January 31.
By the end of this year, 17 million Australians will have their private medical records uploaded online as part of the My Health revolution – unless they object (stock image)
Felicity Vallence, an Australian woman in New York, encountered problems as she attempted to opt out, comparing the situation with the bungled 2016 online Census
The Australian Digital Health Agency’s hotline and website have both been swamped with calls.
A man from Penrith, in Sydney’s west, tried to opt out online on Wednesday afternoon only to discover he already had an active My Health record which he was unaware of.
‘I was outraged, shocked and appalled to find out this information,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
The website also told him he needed to sign in, even though he didn’t have a My Health log-in or password.
‘Now I am confused as to how I am meant to opt out. It has not been properly explained,’ he said.
Residents in his area, and the nearby Blue Mountains, automatically received a My Health record in July 2016 as part of a trial.
A man who tried to opt out said he called four time before being connected to opt out
Felicity Vallence, an Australian woman in New York, encountered problems as she attempted to opt out, comparing the situation with the bungled 2016 online Census.
‘The site is currently crashing thanks to the influx of people trying to opt out,’ she said.
‘From the same government technology team who gave you Census 2016 and the NBN.’
A man who tried to opt out said he called four times before being connected to opt out.
‘Phone line didn’t even ring until the fourth try and then I got a recorded message asking me to opt out online,’ he said.
‘No option to talk to a person despite the My Health records website directing me to the phone to opt out.’
Health Minister Greg Hunt tweeted on Wednesday the deadline would be extended until January 31
By the end of this year, 17 million Australians will have all their private medical records uploaded online as part of the My Health revolution – unless they formally object by November 15.
The Senate on Wednesday voted to extend the deadline until January 31, a week after Health Minister Greg Hunt announced $315,000 fines and five-year jail terms for illegally accessing the data.
The House of Representatives won’t meet until next week, however, Mr Hunt announced the government would honour the two-month extension.
‘Today the government worked with the Senate crossbench to extend the opt-out period for My Health Record,’ he tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.
‘The opt-out period will be extended until January 31, 2019, however, it’s important to note that people can opt-out at any time.’
Health Minister Greg Hunt (pictured) insisted it would be ‘arguably the safest system in the world’ but this week flagged five-year jail terms for illegally accessing My Health data
Santosh Devaraj, the chief executive of cyber security firm Secure Logic, said the existing My Health system was flawed.
‘There is no reliable mechanism to guarantee confidentiality and privacy of data,’ he said.
‘With the little-known ‘secondary use of data’ feature enabled by default, people cannot reliably manage their data use.
My Health at a glance
My Health is the digitisation of every Australian’s medical record.
It will enable doctors across Australia to access all details about their patients with a single password.
Australians have until November 15 to opt out of the system.
So far, 6.2 million Australians have a My Health record.
By the end of 2018, that will jump to 17 million.
Fines of up to $315,000 and five-year jail terms will be imposed for those illegally accessing the data.
Sources: Australian Digital Health Agency; Health Minister Greg Hunt
‘Even when the data is anonymised, the opportunities for malicious re-identification are numerous, and the consequences could be catastrophic.’
Under the new system, Australians will no longer need to contact their previous doctor every time they sign up with a new general practitioner.
And for doctors, it will mean having a complete medical history of their patients with a simple password, giving them more scope to better prescribe medicines.
Health Minister Greg Hunt insisted it would be ‘arguably the safest system in the world’.
‘This is about giving people, for the first time, access their own medical records when they need it, where they want to access it and importantly it’s also about preventing misuse of medication,’ he told the Nine Network last week.
Mr Hunt has announced more severe penalties and jail terms for those who misuse the data, just days before Australians lose their chance to opt out.
More than 6.2 million Australians already have a My Health account and 14,000 doctors are connected, the federal government’s Australian Digital Health Agency said.
Domestic violence groups fear abusive husbands or boyfriends could illegally access a woman’s My Health data so they could more easily control her (stock image)
However, more than 1.1million Australians have also chosen to opt out of the My Health.
Domestic violence groups have called for the government to suspend the system until serious privacy issues are addressed.
They are concerned that abusive husbands and boyfriends, with knowledge of passwords, would be able to access confidential records to track down women.
Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia feared a domineering man could illegally access sensitive details about a woman’s sexual history, pregnancy status, mental health, where she lived and any reports about violence.
‘The proposed My Health system presents an unacceptable safety risk for women and children experiencing violence,’ it said in a submission to a Senate inquiry.
‘We urge that the government suspend the system until these privacy concerns are addressed.’
The Sydney-based crisis counselling group said a doctor could also illegally access the data on behalf of a violent husband or boyfriend.
‘The perpetrator may have access to his partner or children’s log in details,’ it said.
The Gold Coast Domestic Violence Integrated Response feared a partner’s ability to gain access to personal health records could even threaten the lives of women (stock image)
‘He may be a health practitioner himself and have direct access to the system, or have a family member or friend who is a health practitioner and is willing to access the system on his behalf.’
The Gold Coast Domestic Violence Integrated Response feared a partner’s ability to gain access to personal health records could even threaten the lives of women and their children.
‘An abusive partner’s knowledge about these tests, conditions or the admissions the victim has made to health staff about the abuse they have been subjected to, could result in further or an escalation of physical or verbal abuse towards and/or increase the risk of lethality for the victim and their children,’ it said in its Senate committee submission.
They also feared confidential records could be used in custody battles and also exploited to control women from culturally and religiously conservative communities if someone accessing her records discovered she wasn’t a virgin.
Labor’s shadow health minister Catherine King (pictured) called on the government to extend the opt-out period
In response to those concerns, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced maximum five-year jail terms and fines up to $315,000 for illegally accessing My Health data.
Employers and health insurers would also be banned from accessing the information.
The minister also responded to concerns raised by domestic violence support groups by restricting the information held by the Australian Digital Health Agency in circumstances where ‘there may be a risk to a person’s life, health or safety’.
Labor’s shadow health minister Catherine King had earlier called on the government to extend the opt-out period.
Both houses of federal Parliament don’t sit again until November 26, which is 11 days after the opt-out deadline for Australians.
If in doubt, opt out.