The Coalition has called for the Federal Government to delay the launch of personally controlled e-health records (PCEHRs) for all Australians by one year until 1 July 2013.
The Senate committee investigating the legislation required for the implementation of the $466.7 million PCEHR system yesterday called for the passage of the Bills in its report handed to the Senate yesterday. However, a dissenting report from coalition senators Sue Boyce and Bridget McKenzie noted that the majority of participants in the inquiry are extremely concerned about the launch date being just four months away.
"The Coalition is concerned that the government's political needs for a 'big bang' approach to the introduction of e-health on a given date are being given primacy over common sense," the report stated.
The Coalition pointed to evidence given by the Medical Software Industry Association (MSIA) that problems with the standards for the health identifiers used to link patients to their e-health records would risk patient safety. The report also cited submissions from the Australian Privacy Foundation and the information commissioner over concerns about the adequacy of privacy provisions and data-breach notifications.
NEHTA has rejected MSIA's claims about issues surrounding patient safety, last week saying that where multiple identifiers are created for the one person, they will be linked.
There is also a lack of confidence from consumers and clinicians in the proposed system, meaning that it is unclear as to how many doctors or patients will adopt PCEHRs from day one, the report said.
For these reasons, the senators recommended that the launch be delayed.
"That so many fundamental issues are yet to be resolved a little over three months from launch, after six years of development and the expenditure of between $467 and $750 million, must be a matter of great concern," the senators said.
"Coalition senators recommend that the PCEHR legislation be delayed until 1 July 2013, in order to satisfactorily address the many issues raised during this inquiry, especially those relating to governance, patient risk, privacy and interoperability, are resolved."
The Labor majority on the committee noted that most stakeholders want an opt-out system to address take-up rates, but the committee said that an opt-in approach should be taken in the initial stages, and then, two years after implementation, the government could review and consider a transition to an opt-out system.
Greens senators Rachel Siewert and Richard Di Natale supported the government's decision to delete the "no access" provisions of the PCEHR system that would allow consumers to block any access to a file in the PCEHR, but said that the Bill should make it clear that "no access" controls can be reinstated farther down the track by the system operator, in order to give people greater confidence in the privacy of the system.
Labor senators acknowledged the privacy concerns raised during the inquiry, but said that there are "inherent weaknesses" in privacy protections for existing paper-based record systems, and that the legislation addresses privacy concerns while balancing the needs of registered healthcare providers to operate on the PCEHR system.