Australian Digital Health Agency chief Tim Kelsey has batted away accusations that he is part of a conspiracy to keep Australians ignorant of their rights to opt out of the My Health Record.
After his televised National Press Club address in Canberra on Thursday, journalists demanded assurances from Mr Kelsey that a lack of public information about the launch of the electronic health record was not a deliberate strategy to muzzle dissent.
“There is no Big Brother, and people may be surprised that when opt-out comes and their record is created, there is literally nothing in it until it’s activated,” Mr Kelsey said.
The electronic health record, to be created automatically for every Australian in mid-July, would not hold any information until the individual MHR patient activated it, he said.
Upon activation, it would show two years of MBS and PBS information.
The three-month opt-out period will start on July 16. But people could delete information or withdraw from the system at any time in the future, he said.
Asked why the agency did not simply send out letters to every Australian advising them of their rights to opt out and the pros and cons of the system, Mr Kelsey said that approach would only upset people.
Mass mail-outs could create “tremendous anxiety”, if letters were addressed to deceased people or recently departed family members.
“Letters are deemed to be a means of creating all kinds of perverse outcomes, and as a result people will not be getting an individual letter,” Mr Kelsey said.
Mr Kelsey, a former high-profile investigative journalist in the UK, was also pressed to explain why ADHA’s opt-out announcement had coincided with a recent royal wedding.
News Corp health reporter Sue Dunlevy pointed out that the news came when media attention was glued to the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
“You have confirmed at the lunch table today that there will be no national television, radio or print media advertising campaign about the roll-out of this record or the right of Australians to opt out,” she said.
“Last week, under the cover of the royal wedding, you announced the opt-out period, almost guaranteeing that it got no media coverage.
“Could you forgive Australians for accusing you of being involved in a conspiracy to keep them ignorant about the roll-out of this record, in the hope that you will maximise the number of people who are given one of these records because they will never know that they had the chance to opt out?”
“There’s no notional opt-out rate target or anything. My job is to make sure that everybody is aware of their rights to opt-out and has been able to exercise them. So, no conspiracy,” Mr Kelsey said.
“We are very transparently going to be explaining to all Australians what those rights are, in ways that are suitable and in ways that they want us to.”
Australians would receive targeted communications from “a number of government departments” explaining the scheme, he said.
“You don’t start promoting awareness of the right to opt out before people can actually opt out,” he added. After mid-July “you will see a very extensive, very visible information service launched”.