Date Published: 15 April 2009

Government set to strip privacy protection from patient records

Health News from Australia.

Government is taking a bold step in legislating to gain access to the private health records of all Australians.

An exposure draft of legislation quietly released on the Thursday night before Easter will give government the right to access all information recorded by doctors on individual patients records.

The legislation reverses current legal protections for patient privacy, ensuring no part of the patient record is protected. The patient record will be completely exposed, extracts obtained, copied, retained and potentially submitted in court for all to see.

It clearly states under section (7) Health Information that:

“the power under this section to require a document, extract or copy to be produced includes the power to require production of a document, extract or copy containing health information (within the definition of the Privacy Act 1988) about an individual.”

Government has previously claimed the legislation allowed for ‘simple administrative checks’ but the draft specifically empowers administrative officers to view personal details from the confidential patient record, and that record can then be used further in proceedings.

AMA President, Dr Rosanna Capolingua, described the legislation as “deeply disturbing”.

“It is remarkable that a Government should take such a step as to violate your personal medical record. This is ‘Big Brother’ at its worst.

“Doctors take their oath of patient confidentiality extremely seriously, but this legislation forces us to break this oath or face a hefty fine,” she said.

This is an act of bureaucratic voyeurism that strips patients of all rights to privacy. It presses the face of government at the keyhole of every surgery in the country. Doctors will be compelled to hand over highly sensitive medical information to justify Medicare claims potentially including a patient’s intimate concerns and examination findings, their test results, weight, sexual health, infections ... nothing is protected.

Worse still, under this legislation patients don’t even have the right to know that their records are being accessed. There is no compulsion to even advise patients, let alone seek their permission.

Doctors fear the legislation will prevent patients from discussing intimate health concerns once the patient understands that privacy is no longer guaranteed. The safety and confidential security that patients should feel when they are telling a doctor their problems is essential to ensure the patient gets the best and the right care for their needs.

The AMA supports appropriate use of the Medicare Rebate for patients, and appropriate audits for the system. Under the proposed new legislation doctors will be assumed to be guilty, and face a hefty fine, if they refuse to hand over information. Patients must have privacy and protection for their medical records.

Government has no business accessing these records. This information is between the doctor and the patient, and must remain so,” Dr Capolingua said.



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