Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

E-health on the move, with lively privacy debate to follow. Not Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon

Our wonderful system of federation adds a layer of complexity to an already complex problem when it comes to getting the balance right between access to health information, now in digital form, for those that need it for efficient and effective service to those in need, and the appropriate protection of privacy of the individual concerned.

In a somewhat low key fashion (not even a ministerial media release, perhaps reflecting the potential hot political potatoes at the heart of the matter), the Federal Government via the Department of Health and Ageing has released a Discussion paper on Healthcare Identifiers and National Health Privacy Arrangements.It seeks submissions by 14 August on legislative proposals, to be in place to allow a scheme for the issue of unique health identifiers by Medicare Australia, by mid 2010. A spokesperson for The Australian Privacy Foundation made the obvious point that any system poorly thought through and not properly managed poses dangers to the health of those involved. The Foundation had earlier laid down a few markers about the privacy concerns about e-health systems in letters to the Federal and NSW Health ministers. Expect considered comment on the details soon.

The Australian Law Reform Commission spent two years on research and consultation and delivered a report late last year running to over 2000 pages on the reform of Australia's privacy laws. The Government hasn't responded to any of it so far but as the Discussion Paper illustrates through examination of only some health issues, holding to the proposed consistent uniform approach will be a monumental task. Queensland's Information Privacy Act only commenced on 1 July; NSW and WA are looking at reforms and the Commonwealth will announce phase one of its response to the ALRC proposals before the end of the year. The Discussion Paper says consultations with the states about e-health (its been on the agenda of Australia's health ministers now for 9 years) will commence in the second half of the year. However existing laws and regulations-with some modifications to allow for national identifiers- are to get us by until the proposed uniform national system of regulation is in place.The mind aches at the thought of all those inter-departmental, inter-government meetings across the country..

Meanwhile before the Federal Government makes any public response to the ALRC proposals, the Paper (Part B, page 45) proposes ditching a number of those put forward by the Commission, including that one group of ministers (Attorneys- General) should be in the driver's seat on all this- Health ministers are preferred- and adding some new elements to the ALRC Uniform Principles proposals to reflect special features relating to health.
Special pleading may have some justification, but I'm sure there has already been plenty of it behind closed doors from other sectors, and it's a contributing factor to the current legislative mess. No doubt the experts will give us plenty to think about over the next month on the e- health issues.

If we are still to get anything through the Federal Parliament on Freedom of Information Reform, 20 months on, what chance all this in place by mid 2010?

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to know why DoHA has chosen not to publish the submissions.