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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

E-health records: opt out if really concerned about privacy

The debate about the NSW Government’s electronic health record pilot projects continues. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that one of the two trials has been delayed indefinitely, and that the Department of Health has indicated that the best option for a person who does not want to share sensitive information with all members of their treating team is to opt out of the scheme as the system does not permit free text such as doctor’s notes to be selectively kept private.

An earlier blog reported on the unsuccessful disallowance motion in the Legislative Council of a regulation to permit the pilots to proceed. While the former Privacy Commissioner, Chris Puplick was mentioned in debate as being against the regulation, there was no mention of the views of the current Acting Commissioner. However according to The Sydney Morning Herald he has “raised concerns about aspects of the trial” and has sought advice from the Crown Solicitor on the issue of “informed consent”.

The article says advice is expected in the next few weeks.

This seems a little late as the Hunter Pilot commenced on 27 March. The Minister for Health's assurances during Parliamentary debate that the pilot conforms to the highest standards to protect privacy sound a little lame in the light of these new revelations.

These issues are not unique to NSW or Australia. Let's hope those involved have time to keep up with developments elsewhere. For example 26 groups in the US have joined forces to mount a campaign for better privacy protections in the development of electronic health records. As we speak they are planning a press conference in Washington on 5 April on the subject. Thanks to David Fraser's Canadian Privacy blog for the lead on this development.

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