The pros and cons of the government’s My Health Record

If you’ve been paying attention to the news this week, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the government. It tends to permeate every news week in some way or another, but this week, there’s a good reason: the government’s digital health program is finally getting off the ground.

This week marks the first week in the next three months where you can decide whether you want to be a part of the Australian government’s “My Health Record”, a digitally stored database of health information pertaining to your life.

The information stored here could save your life, but it could also damage it, because this sort of information can be lucrative if not stored properly, and dangerous if accessed inappropriately.

There are pros and cons to each side, and this is ultimately your choice, but that makes it necessary to weigh up the options to see where you sit.

Editor’s Note: This story can be heard in a five minute podcast, with a Special Edition of The Wrap.

The positive case for My Health Record

A centralised health system does have its positives, and most of these centre around the great things this sort of system can do.

For many, those reasons will make a lot of sense, with the information in a health record being used to track allergies, immunisations, and medication you may be on, all helping in the event of an emergency.

Consider this a centralised location for your medical information, and for that of members of your family. If hospital staff or doctors need it, the information can be accessed at a moment’s notice, and the notice that your record has been accessed will be stored in your history.

What’s more, the system will make it possible for health specialists to have the necessary information for you at their fingertips, providing a documented history of your life in medicine for the folks that need it.

You have some control

A documented history of your life may be useful for people working in health fields, but it doesn’t have to be the totally unabridged history of your life if you don’t want things that way.

According to My Health Record, you’ll be able to remove information found under your record, such as pathology reports, PBS information, and even restrict access.

Perhaps the most useful addition is the notification option, which will send you an alert when your file has been accessed.

My kids will have it anyway

There’s an interesting argument with My Health Record that even if you don’t have it now, future people included in your family could potentially have it, so setting it up now gives you an understanding of what to do when they eventually become a part of the system.

Until October 18, you get the option of withdrawing from the system, of opting out. But after, every Australian will have one, with new records becoming available from November 13 onwards.

That essentially means anyone new in your familiar will eventually be given one, and we’re not sure you can opt out of that ahead of time on their behalf.

The negative case for My Health Record

Unfortunately for the Australian government, there are many, many reasons why a government controlled health system requiring you to opt out can be viewed as a little concerning.

On the one hand, there’s that force requirement: you have to opt out, rather than the opposite of opting in. That places an interesting requirement, an onus if you will, on the taxpayer that already has so much to do in their life.

Given you need to opt out if you don’t want to be a part of it, you now need to research and decide whether the system is valid for you, because if you don’t, you’ll be a part of My Health Record whether you like it or not.

We’re sure the government sees this as an extra thing it is supplying to residents of the country, but when it has the potential to be misused, we raised red flags and eyebrows.

So let’s talk about some of these red flags, because some of them really have us concerned.

Data is lucrative and frequently stolen

You can’t go a week without finding another system has been hacked open and its juicy database revealed to the world. We see this from companies fairly regularly, and while now there’s an obligation that they disclose when it has happened, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re likely changing your passwords on a fairly regular basis to account for it.

The simple fact is that data is lucrative, and depending on the quality of the data — what it represents, essentially — it becomes even more sought after.

Your password to your email is worth something, but data about your health is particularly interesting. There are numerous examples where this could have disastrous circumstances, but you merely just need to ask how much you value the information you have about yourself, and if it could be potentially lucrative in the right (or wrong) hands.

There may be penalties, but if your data does get leaked or broken into, it won’t feel like much of a win for you, and there are locations online that will pay top dollar for medical information.

Back in 2017, The Guardian discovered that Medicare patient details could be accessed from a vulnerability in a government system, with those details up for sale in a dark corner of the internet. This breach is just the beginning, though it’s one that raises a question about the government.

A technological track record

It’s not hard to start to see the technological track record of the Australian government, and once these factors are combined, you begin to find a system that possibly hasn’t been thought through enough.

You don’t have to look far to see a technological bungle by the Australian government, and while most have happened on the Liberal watch, all government is guilty of poorly thought out technology-backed efforts.

Five years ago, then PM Tony Abbott made the disastrous claim in defence of a slower National Broadband Network that 25 megabits would be all Australians would need, a claim which was wrong at the time it was made. Given 25Mbps was the minimum needed for 4K media, and more would be needed for households churning through data, it’s a technological opinion that showcased the ignorance government office can sometimes connect with technological understanding.

But it’s not the only time our government has misunderstood technological needs.

The 2016 Census rolling out online suffered its own problems, so much that the one night of August 9 Australians were encouraged to take to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ website and fill in the 2016 Census, they discovered the site couldn’t handle the load, failing.

And already in the first few days My Health Record, the server has seen a configuration issue, allowing its contents to be accessed, revealing a WordPress install and theme for the platform. The database may not have been accessible, but it couldn’t have been a worse time for a problem to occur with My Health Record, especially as the government attempts to instil faith in this new system.

The possibility for misuse

Misuse is another issue that might raise alarm bells, and while security can be put in place over your account, this can reportedly been broken in the event of an emergency. What constitutes that, we may not know, but law enforcement agencies may be a part of that, as My Health Records can be disclosed for the act of crime detection and prevention.

Add to this the ability for almost one million health professionals being granted access to records, and you bring in the possibility of security issues, something that can occur from something as simple as that computer having a virus installed.

The government does say that penalties exist for misuse of the records stored in My Health Records, but that might come as no small thing if your files are the very ones that go walkabout.

Medication would likely be a part of what’s stored, meaning doctors would know what you’re taking in the event that information became supremely useful.

The decision is yours

Ultimately, the decision is yours, and while there is no right or wrong answer here, choosing to stay in or opt out is a choice you’re going to have to live with.

If you’re involved in an accident and the information that could save your life can be stored in My Health Record, that’s a positive side.

However, if the government fails to safeguard data appropriately and plays down security requirements, only to see that database hacked open, it is the citizens that will feel the burn of their data being released into the open. If government departments misuse their rights to this data, again, it is the citizen that will feel it.

But there are pros and cons to each argument, and it is entirely possible, scepticism aside, for the government to get something right.

At a guess, we’d anticipate most families would likely stay in, while individuals are the most likely to consider leaving the system. Given the prospect that children will likely be netizens whether they like it or not, without even mentioning how their entries will be created later on regardless, it stands to reason families will likely stay in My Health Record, though the decision is ultimately yours.

And even if you decide to opt out now, you can opt in later. The system isn’t going to lock you out if you decide to not be a part of it immediately, so the choice to return is up to you.

You’ll just have to decide which side you agree with best for the beginning of the program. Just make sure to do it before October 15, because after that, you’ll have no choice and be a part of the system all the same.

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