Sensitive health data from pathology providers will be shared to the My Health Record “by default” by December 2024 under a plan to boost the amount of information on the national digital health platform.
As an Australian pathology clinic grapples with a data breach affecting ten years’ worth of referral letters, the federal government has begun consulting on reforms that will include few exceptions for sharing.
The changes were flagged in this year’s federal Budget, with $13 million of the $429.7 million for a two-year modernisation of the My Health Record set aside for a “share by default” setting for health providers.
The upgrade – prompted by the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce earlier this year – is intended to “make health information much more accessible to consumers and their healthcare providers”, including by replacing the clunky, pdf format system with a structure data system.
Only around half of all pathology reports and one in five diagnostic imaging reports currently being shared to My Health Record by health providers, which the government said created a “clear gap” to the “benefits of a digitally connected healthcare system”.
By sharing by default, the government hopes to support better informed healthcare decisions by enabling timely access to key health information for patients and their healthcare providers, while reducing the need for consumers to repeat their medical histories.
“Requiring private and public practitioners and services to share by default will achieve this. This change will make it easier for consumers and their healthcare providers to access health information,” the consultation paper states.
Peak bodies in the pathology and diagnostic imaging sector are already in “broad agreement” about sharing by default, having engaged with the Department of Health and Aged Care through an earlier consultation process in April.
The government will expect pathology and diagnostic imaging providers to begin uploading patient results to My Health Record by default in June 2024, with “legal obligations” expected to follow in December 2024.
Legislative changes are being considered by government to force pathology laboratories and diagnostic imaging to upload to My Health Record by “linking eligibility to receive Medicare rebates to sharing of diagnostic imaging or pathology reports”.
The government will, however, “make provision for appropriate case-by-case exceptions, where the obligations to share by default will not apply”, such instances include where a patient doesn’t have a My Health Record or where “data matching fails”.
Under the My Health Record Act, providers are not required to gain consent from their patients each time they upload data to the digital health record, unless where a patient has instructed the provider not to upload or a state or territory law requires consent.
The government said the “obligations to share by default will not prevent a patient from expressly advising they do not want the upload to occur”, meaning that patients will still have an avenue to opt-out of sharing their data.
Healthcare providers could also be provided with advice on how to navigate other circumstances, including if “they have reasonable concern for the health or safety of a patient if the upload were to take place”.
The consultation of the proposed changes come just days after Victorian pathology clinic TissuPath advised of a data breach potentially impacting up to 10 years of pathology request forms.
While the provider’s “main database and reporting system that stores patient diagnoses was not compromised”, the breach has exposed patient names, dates of birth, contact details, Medicare numbers, and private health insurance details.
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