The Australian Medical Association Limited and state AMA entities comply with the Privacy Act 1988. Please refer to the AMA Privacy Policy to understand our commitment to you and information on how we store and protect your data.

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Privacy law reforms must not undermine doctor-patient relationship

Where is the Government up to with privacy law reform? In 2008, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released its report on Australian privacy law, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice. The report recommended 295 amendments to improve and update Australia’s privacy framework. In response to the report, the Government is addressing the recommendations in two stages.

05 Aug 2012

Where is the Government up to with privacy law reform?

In 2008, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) released its report on Australian privacy law, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice. The report recommended 295 amendments to improve and update Australia’s privacy framework. In response to the report, the Government is addressing the recommendations in two stages.

As part of their first stage response, the Government recently released the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Bill 2012 that incorporates the development of the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs), addresses credit reporting and strengthens and clarifies the Information Commissioner’s powers and functions. According to Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, the rest of the Government’s first stage response, which relates to health services and research provisions along with the remaining ALRC recommendations, will be considered by the Government after the Bill has progressed.

The AMA recently provided a submission to an inquiry into the Bill, highlighting the essential role that privacy and confidentiality plays in supporting the doctor-patient relationship and optimising patient care. The submission emphasised that when patients trust doctors and the wider health care system to protect their personal information, they are more confident in disclosing personal, and often sensitive, details required by doctors to make an accurate assessment of patients’ health care needs. Without full disclosure, the doctor’s ability to make an accurate diagnosis or treatment plan is seriously undermined and patient care compromised.

Should patients feel their personal information will not be appropriately protected, they may either not attend a doctor or may limit or falsify the personal information they provide to their doctor, potentially resulting in serious consequences for their health care.

The AMA’s submission also highlighted the following:

  • patients’ right to privacy and confidentiality is not absolute. There may be exceptions, such as in a medical emergency or where permitted or required by law. Where a doctor is permitted or compelled to disclose a patient’s personal information without consent, this must overwhelmingly serve the public interest;
  • there should not be an undue administrative burden placed on medical practices when complying with any changes to privacy legislation;
  • any changes to the legislation should be accompanied by draft explanatory guidelines for doctors and other health care providers; and
  • a community awareness campaign should also accompany any changes to privacy legislation in relation to health information so that patients, carers and others understand their rights and obligations under the new law.

Reforming and updating privacy legislation is a huge task. In particular, ensuring any changes to the legislation stay relevant with the rapidly changing world of information technology is no small feat.

As the reforms develop, the AMA will lobby to ensure legislative changes do not inadvertently undermine the doctor-patient relationship, compromise patient care or add an unnecessary burden to doctors’ administrative duties. 

We will continue to keep members informed about privacy legislation reforms and the impact they will have on your practice. 


Published: 05 Aug 2012