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24 Jul 2018



For well over a decade, successive Australian governments have worked to make an electronic health record a reality.

The AMA and the medical profession have been strong supporters of such a record. It promises greater efficiencies in recording, storing, and sharing vital health information. But it must be the right record – one that combines a safe, single record of a patient’s health information with the necessary privacy and security systems in place.

There is a lot of misinformation around now, and people concerned fears of hacking and third-party access to files, but we continue to be assured that the current My Health Record model offers all the relevant protection.

The finite benefits far outweigh the possible concerns. It is a great asset for the health system.

If health care was simple and predictable, and if a patient only ever needed clinical treatment from a single, regular clinician, we would not need a My Health Record at all. The patient’s doctor would have all the patient’s clinical information in their own clinical software on the desktop.

But patients’ lives are more dynamic and unpredictable than this. Emergencies happen. Each patient will be seen by many different doctors for different reasons at different times, and will be treated in multiple settings.

As well as their GP, patients might be treated in hospital, see specialists and allied health professionals, be referred by different doctors to different pathology labs and diagnostic imaging providers. These realities mean that each doctor who treats the patient doesn’t currently have a clear overview of the range of treatments the patient has received.

The My Health Record will help connect care across the health system and start to address the treatment fragmentation.

The multiple doctors and allied health professions who all treat the same patient at various points in time will be able to access a summary of relevant patient clinical data at the time of treatment – irrespective of the clinician’s specialty or physical location in Australia. The result will be safer, faster, and more efficient health care.

We would see a reduction in things like medical harm due to anaphylaxis because clinicians other than the patient’s usual doctor can access the patient’s records quickly and efficiently no matter the location.

The electronic record can save lives. A Brisbane GP recently told a Senate inquiry how the earlier version of the My Health Record saved the life of one of his patients. 

He said that the hospital was able to access the information that was in that electronic record and made the decision not give the diabetic patient, who was in a coma, the usual antibiotic that would have been administered for sepsis.  This person had a severe anaphylactic allergy to that antibiotic and, if it had been given, would have been killed. That is a powerful example of the value of an electronic health record.

The electronic record will also go a long way to addressing the intractable problem of delayed or non-existent handovers of admitted patients to their GPs on discharge.

It will reduce medical harm due to polypharmacy, which is a big issue. There are an estimated 230,000 hospital admissions costing over $1.2 billion annually due to medicine misadventure in Australia.

My Health Record should also deliver increased efficiencies and reduced waste. Treasury estimates suggest savings of around $123 million by 2020-21 by eliminating avoidable duplicated pathology tests, diagnostic images, and averted medical misadventures.

We have come a long way over the last decade. There has been considerable consultation and trialling to get things right – and safe. We must push ahead with this My Health Record. 

This article was first published in Fairfax newspapers on 24 July 2018

Published: 24 Jul 2018