It has been a dramatic start to the Federal Government’s My Health Record opt out period, with tech meltdowns, call centre chaos and some Australians discovering a My Health Record had already been created for them without their knowledge or consent.

After 17 years, $2 billion and a communications campaign many months in the planning, the Australian Digital Health Agency has apparently been caught unprepared for the level of traffic.

The myGov website suffered a glitch this morning, followed by the My Health Record online opt out platform going down soon afterwards. People calling the opt out phoneline were met with waits of over an hour and a half to get through before it too went down. Even still, by the end of the first day more than 20,000 people had managed to opt out.

But within the technical crises, it was the discovery by people attempting to opt out that they already had My Health Records that caused concern.

Prior to today, Australians were required to opt in to have an online repository of their private health information created for them by the government, with 5.9 million currently active.

Reports also spread of My Health Records attached to the myGov accounts of the wrong people, failure of the online opt out system to verify correct identification, calls being cut off, people being unable to complete the feedback survey and parents struggling to opt out for their children.

The technical problems created a communications catastrophe for the ADHA, which has worked hard to reassure Australians about the government’s ability to manage their most sensitive of electronic data despite previous IT blunders, such as the 2016 online Census.

As the technical dramas unfolded, Health Minister Greg Hunt struggled to defend the system on Melbourne Radio today in an interview with the ABC’s Mornings program.

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Hunt expressed his confidence in the system and said world leading cybersecurity mechanisms meant there had been no breaches of the system since its launch.

"It is not just bank-level security but the advice from the Digital Health Agency is that it has been defence-tested," Hunt said.

"They have a permanent cyber security network. It's arguably the world's leading and most secure medical information system at any national level."

[Read more: My Health Record data breaches caused by "fraudulent behaviour or human error" | My Health Record identified data to be made available to third parties]

But today IT experts were calling out the use of Google's reCAPTCHA function on the My Health Record opt out page, saying it leaks information to Google’s global servers and contravenes a privacy policy that claims data will be contained within Australia.

With online critics describing My Health Record as the “NBN of electronic medical records” and “Flintstonian”, healthcare groups spoke out in support of the life-saving benefits of the portal.

National Rural Health Alliance CEO Mark Diamond said in a statement that My Health Record can save lives.

“Australians living in rural and remote areas are more likely to end up in an emergency department from a heart attack, car accident or diabetic coma,” he said in a statement.

“If they’re unconscious, and the medical team doesn’t have access to their health history, the team may not be able to provide life-saving care. If you live outside a major city, you have less access to health services, and are more likely to delay getting medical treatment. That means you’re more likely to end up being hospitalised. A My Health Record means that all your important health information is at the fingertips of your doctor, nurse or surgeon.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Medical Association’s president Dr Tony Bartone said healthcare providers often communicate via fax or post but My Health Record allows clinicians to access information urgently.

“Remember this is a concept that's actually going to save lives. For example, if someone was unconscious in an emergency department on the other side of the country … and you've got a My Health Record, it can be viewed in an emergency situation, give important clinical details about medications you're on or previous allergies or previous situations,” Bartone told ABC Radio Melbourne’s Breakfast program.

“So we need to sort of balance the risk of our own privacy versus the risk of not knowing information and having duplication of medications [and] miscommunication.”

Australians have until October 15 to opt out or a My Health Record will be created for them by the end of the year.

To share tips, news or announcements, contact the HITNA editor on lynne.minion@himssmedia.com

 

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