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.
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.