Health ministers from around the country said yesterday that more consultation on privacy protections was necessary before
any implementation of national individual health identification records could proceed.
The National E-health Transition Authority has received a
mandate from the Council of Australian Governments to develop an
individual health identifier for patients and providers with
The identifiers will ease the flow of patient information
throughout the health system, reducing the need to take histories
twice, and helping health professionals gain a better overall view
of patients' health.
Although there is agreement that such an identifier needs to be
developed, there are privacy issues about the access to the
information which need to be tackled. Legislation will also have to
be passed before identifiers can become a reality.
At a conference of Australian health ministers held yesterday,
the ministers discussed the individual health identifiers, saying
that it was "essential" that privacy arrangements meet community
expectations, balancing the need to protect personal details with
the ability to achieve healthcare benefits through sharing of
Consultations were underway on the recommendations contained in
the Australian Law Reform Commission's review on
Australian privacy laws tabled last year and further consultations were planned to
build on review stakeholder feedback which would be an
opportunity to canvass e-health issues, according to the communique from the meeting.
A report of the findings from the consultations will be provided
to COAG by the middle of this year.
Yet any move made to form a legislative framework for
identifiers would need to progress swiftly if it is to come together at the
same time as federal health department secretary Jane Halton has said the identifier will
be ready. She said last week during a Senate Estimates Committee hearing that many underlying components for e-health,
including the unique health identifier, would be delivered by the end of the year.
Halton assured Senator Boyce that "quite a bit of progress"
had been happening in e-health, such as NEHTA receiving $218
million additional funding from COAG, and the appointment of
NEHTA's new CEO Peter Fleming. Fleming recently
called 2009 the authority's "year of delivery", with pilots planned to go ahead
in the realm of discharge summaries and medication management.
Fleming himself had said that the non-technical issues —
privacy issues, work issues, overarching consumer and government
requirements and legislative changes — were the biggest
hurdle to the unique identifier.