How I got my healthcare identifier

How I got my healthcare identifier

Summary: Despite individual healthcare identifiers being allocated to every Australian by Medicare yesterday, it has not been easy for the average citizen, me, to get a hold of my own number.

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commentary Despite individual healthcare identifiers being allocated to every Australian by Medicare yesterday, it has not been easy for the average citizen, me, to get a hold of my own number.

call centre

(Call Centre image by alanclarkdesign, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Considering the legislation just passed the Senate last week, I was curious to discover how easy it would be to find out my own personal 16-digit identifier number.

As part of the roll-out, Medicare Australia established a hotline (1300 361 457) to inform patients and healthcare providers about the new healthcare identifiers allocated to them following the passing of the legislation. The Medicare online service also contains record information including the identifier number.

Both the Department of Health and Ageing and Medicare Australia confirmed yesterday that anybody with a Medicare card should be able to find out their own personal identifier number using either of the two above options.

As the online service requires you to register beforehand and then wait for Medicare Australia to mail out password information via snail mail — great for security and privacy, bad for the purposes of journalism — my only option was to call the hotline.

In my first two attempts, after verifying my details with the operators, I was told I could not be given my identifier number.

The third call put me in contact with an operator who was able to look up my health identifier number details in the Medicare system, but they said it appeared that I had not been allocated a number yet.

Following another call to Medicare's media department to verify that the numbers had been allocated yesterday, as had previously been indicated, I put in a fourth call to the hotline.

Success! The operator was able to easily locate my 16-digit identifier number after verifying my personal details.

All four operators stressed — and they are correct — that there is no real reason why we need to know our own individual health identifier number if we already have a Medicare card. Now armed with my own identifier number, there's really not much I can do with it: it is essentially just there to improve record keeping for Medicare and will eventually allow me to create my own personal e-health record to share medical information if I so choose (after the government has passed necessary legislation and creates an online portal).

There was no way any transition to a new system — particularly one as complex as this — would be completely smooth. In a statement, Medicare Australia explained staff had been trained especially for dealing with inquiries about the health identifiers.

"Medicare Australia is monitoring call handling and has sent additional messages and information to service officers to reinforce procedures and the range of support material available," Medicare said in a statement. "Medicare Australia is confident that enquiries will be handled with the professionalism and standards for great service that are afforded to all of the programs we administer."

The real test will be in the coming months, as the 35 software vendors that have now signed up with Medicare Australia begin to work out how to make use of these numbers within their existing electronic healthcare systems.

Topics: Health, Government, Government AU

About

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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Talkback

9 comments
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  • I just hope the online portal they make for this whole eHealth thing is better then the Medicare website. That website is shocking! I couldn't even change my address without calling them up to report problems.
    m00nh34d
  • This is a great example of high quality investigative journalism! You get a guy making 4 calls to find out his 16 digit number. This happens within a day of the system being rolled out. Moreover, there's nothing he can do with the number - 'cause at the moment it's essentially good only for internal record keeping. So the average citizen, anxious they might be missing out on this, must really be relieved to know that someone is on the ball and chasing this from day one...err two! After all, it's not easy to get hold of it! Apparently, it's much easier to churn out "articles" for ZDNet...
    SillyME-5d557
  • It think this is pretty fair, the system needed to generate the 20 million numbers so there was probably always going to be a lag them all being available, so I can't see a day or two being an issue considering it took around 8 years to finally get them.

    SillyMe you are silly as the whole rational for the identifier is for recordkeeping, you as an individual shouldn't be able to do anything with the number not now or in the future. If you can then Medicare have failed.
    Coenbros
  • Coenbros, the identifier will be the foundation of the e-health records down the track. Currently it is used only for INTERNAL records keeping. At some point in the future, one can expect to have the identifier used to "identify" the holder of a e-health record. It would be silly if a the new identifier would be only used it as an internal customer number only (not to mention that customers already had internal "record" numbers without the need for a special legislation to be passed).
    SillyME-5d557
  • Why do we need a new number?
    What is so wrong with the Medicare numbering system that it's cheaper to develop an all new system than upgrade the existing one?
    What are the benefits to the individual? None!
    What are the benefits to the government? Big Brother tells us we have nothing to fear while a system is being rolled out before the legislation is finalised....
    Scott W-ef9ad
  • SillyME the Identifier is not to be used as a form of Identity. Not usre if you know much about Identity Management but to Identify something/someone you need to assess their claim to an identity. This claim is in the form of some credential i.e. signature, drviers license, PKI cert etc... in this regard the identifier is not to be used a credential to "identify" someone.
    It is to be used as an identifier to associate health information to an individual not as a credential to "identify" the holder of an ehealth record.
    Coenbros
  • Scott W, I have had four Medicare numbers in the course of my short life. Presuming you are an adult you have had at least two. The Medicare numbering system is not unique to you and yes there are actually different people that have had the same Medicare number as another person. So hopefully that answers your first two questions.
    Benefits to the individual are mind boggling huge, if you want to save lives that is. Ask anyone who has actually written health industry software how difficult it is to ensure continuum of care across systems without a common identifier.
    Yes the govt will get a big cost saving in this through reduced adverse events and streamlined information and administrative processes. But the reality of it is you have more to fear by having an ehealth environment without an identifier than having it with one, after all a breach of privacy won't kill you but the wrong medication may.
    Coenbros
  • the health-care identifier is one of the WORST things to happen in this country! We have just let the government give us all a national id number. say goodbye to your privacy. This is the precursor to the implantable chip. Keep vigilant people.
    knowWon
  • @knowWon - you are seriously mislead! If the Gov wants to be nosey on you, there is anough resources already - no need for an IHI (so there is *no additional* risk for you). You have your TFN, your driving licence (which is indeed used as a surrogate ID card) as well as enough additional information to do the data-linking (think DOB, address etc.). You use your mobile phone (linked to yourname, address, DOB, credit card...) which indicates your current position as you go. You appear on soooo many cameras - just check on the new technology developed by Google on image mathing (read face recognition...). So your privacy is a myth (unless you decide to live in a cave in far Outback).
    Coenbros is perfectly correct - writing any health software spanning several health care providers *is* a nightmare. Without unique identifier there is a constant serious opening for misaligning records as they travel across increasingly complex helth care system, resulting in possibly fatal medical error. And *that* is the real danger.
    kikimor