Australia to bring citizens' health records online

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Australia to bring citizens' health records online

Bill officially passes parliament.

The Australian government has been given the go-ahead to create a digital health record for every Australian by default pending the success of trials of the model, after the bill for opt-out records passed the parliament today.

The federal government introduced the e-health bill in September. It amends the existing personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR) law to create a record for every Australian by default.

The change in approach was a response to slow take-up of the former Labor government's PCEHR scheme, which allowed individuals to opt-in to the digital health record.

The Health Legislation Amendment (eHealth) Bill 2015 today passed the Senate with no amendments, allowing the government to trial opt-out e-health records in two locations in Queensland and NSW, covering around one million individuals.

Anticipating the bill's safe passage, Health Minister Sussan Ley late last month announced the first sites for the trials of the new approach.

The trials are expected to cost around $51 million. Residents will have online accounts set up for them automatically using names, addresses and health identification numbers from the Medicare database.

It will give the Health department the opportunity to test how it communicates the change in approach to citizens.

The bill passed despite concerns raised from both sides of parliament over the potential privacy implications of creating records for individuals without their express consent.

One parliamentary committee of cross-party MPs last month wrote to Health Minister Sussan Ley to express concerns about the "significant" effect the change could have on an individual's privacy.

The joint committee on human rights - chaired by Liberal MP Phillip Ruddock - questioned whether the opt-out approach was justifiable considering its potential privacy consequences.

The MPs argued there was little detail on how the department planned to communicate to individuals that they'd been signed up to the scheme automatically.

The committee also said the bill also lacked safeguards to ensure individuals are given enough time to opt-out, and individuals cannot erase their record once it has been created

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