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Revamped Australian e-health system passes Parliament

The health records of Australians are set to go online by default, with the new system to be trialled first in northern Queensland and in the Blue Mountains.

The medical records of all Australians are set to go online after legislation to revamp the e-health system and get more people using it cleared Parliament.

The new My Health Record system is to be trialled first in north Queensland and the NSW Blue Mountains region, and will be rolled out nationally if it proves a success.

Australians will need to opt-out of the system if they don't want an e-health record, as opposed to the current model, which started out as the Personally Controlled E-health Record System, which required patients to opt-in.

The Australian government's e-health record system was switched on in 2012, and was given a further AU$485 million in funding in the 2015-16 Budget in May.

The switch to opt-out has drawn fire from the Australian Privacy Foundation, which said it was dangerously naive to believe that opt-out e-health records could be secured against breaches of privacy.

Even lawful access to the medical information could constitute a "huge invasion of privacy", the Privacy Foundation argued in a letter to senators, as anyone employed by a medical facility could access the health records of patients.

On the other hand, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said it was saving lives thanks to being able to conduct data mining on e-health data.

"We've already shown very conclusive evidence of improved mortality through Queensland hospitals as a result of that data mining and feedback to them that enabled them to improve their processes," said Larry Marshall, CEO of CSIRO, at Telstra's 2015 Australian Digital Summit in Sydney last month.

"Many, many people are alive today as a result of those improvements."

The joint project uses a Patient Admission Prediction Tool (PAPT) to collect and analyse hospital data to forecast numbers of patients in emergency, and therefore predict how many staff members and resources will be required for the future.

Marshall said that CSIRO has not seen any success beyond Queensland, as other state governments have not given it access to their health databases.

With AAP