More than 2.5 million people opted out of My Health Record before the January 31 deadline, or roughly 10% of eligible Australians – but the Health Department says these are exactly the numbers it was expecting.
In Senate Estimates on Wednesday, the department’s deputy secretary Caroline Edwards took a glass-half-full approach to the numbers: “Ninety per cent of active Medicare users in Australia have not opted out,” she said. “So we’ll have My Health Records for 90% of Australians, for people with Medicare access.”
Everyone with a Medicare card who has not opted out will now have a digital record created for them, but this record can be deleted at any time. Those who did opt out can also reverse their decision at any time.
The number of opt-outs has more than doubled since the last figure of 1.15 million, reported as the deadline was extended from November to January after people complained of technical difficulties.
Legislation was passed in November to allay privacy and security fears by requiring law enforcement to have a warrant to access data.
Australian Digital Health Agency chief executive Tim Kelsey said some people had opted back into the system after this alteration was made.
Ms Edwards had previously told Estimates that the system could not be used for commercial purposes, but that researchers including pharmaceutical companies could apply through “a very rigorous process” for access to de-identified data.
Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King said the opt-out figures showed the implementation of the opt-out model had been rushed, which “created a range of problems and severely undermined public support for a system that could deliver enormous health benefits for all Australians”.
RACGP president Harry Nespolon did not believe the rejection rate was of great significance. “It’s not really a numbers game,” he told The Medical Republic yesterday. “Many of those who opted out will be people who don’t need one.
“It is now up to My Health Record to show how it will be useful and useable. This is the beginning of the shared record, not the end.”
The RACGP, which “supports the vision for a national electronic health record”, has developed a number of resources to help GPs use the system.
Uploading shared health summaries to My Health Record is a requirement of participation in the Practice Incentives Program eHealth Incentive, or ePIP.