The My Health Record scheme has proved to be yet another debacle for the already embattled federal government.
Less than one month since announcing that all Australians with a Medicare card will, by default, have a digital health record unless they opt out, the government has been forced to back track and make a number of concessions.
Folding under the outcry surrounding concerns of privacy and the integrity of the model itself, health minister Greg Hunt was forced to extend the opt out deadline by one month and also pledged to put extra security assurances in the legislation.
Before the government announced the new opt out policy, many people had not even heard of My Health Record. Ostensibly, it is an electronic summary of your health information that can be accessed by you and your healthcare providers.
It was originally implemented by the Gillard Labor government on a trial basis, with 6 million Australians registered. Although it was set up as an opt in scheme, it has since been revealed that many people were not aware that they had a record.
Despite setting it up, Labor are now criticising the scheme. They say that there is huge scope for a breach of people’s private information. This didn’t seem to be a major concern for them when they rolled out My Health Record, even if it was on an opt in basis.
The benefits of the scheme are being disputed by a number of experts from both the medical and cyber security fields. In the first instance, it is a flawed model that is not designed to be a complete and up to date record.
As pointed out by a number of academics, in the event of an emergency it would actually be a distraction rather than a help due to its lack of comprehensive information.
Further, there are not enough safeguards on who is able to access the sensitive information. Concerns have been raised about the possibility for perpetrators of domestic violence to track their estranged families by creating or accessing records for their children.
Worryingly, police and other government agencies are currently able to gain access without a court order. In this age of ever increasing state surveillance ordinary people are rightly suspicious of how much information governments are gathering on them and for what purposes.
There are also fears that information could be hacked or sold to third parties. The data stored is prime hacking material, as it can be used for identity theft.
Insurance companies such as NIB are already salivating over the prospect of targeted advertising based on information gleaned from My Health Record.
There is precedent for this. It was recently revealed that the biggest online doctor booking service Healthengine has been passing on patient information to third parties such as personal injury lawyers.
The backlash against My Health Record shouldn’t come as a surprise. Last year, polls found that Australians are increasingly distrusting of the establishment. There is no doubt that people’s trust has been further eroded, with the Royal Commission into banking exposing the institutionalised rorting of ordinary people.
Time and again, it has been proven that governments and big businesses do not care about the interests or the privacy of ordinary people. Their only concern is profit.
A digital health record in theory has great merits. In particular, people with multiple, complex illnesses would benefit from having a complete and accurate history that can be accessed by various health professionals. It has the potential to save time and cut through unnecessary double handling and bureaucracy.
But in the hands of profiteers, technology like this is instead used to exploit people. Under capitalism, everything is seen as a commodity to be bought and sold for the right price, including our confidential medical history.
It is only in a socialist society – where the profit motive would be removed and the health sector would be publicly owned and democratically controlled – that technology like this could be used to its fullest potential.
By Kat Galea