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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4413

Senator XENOPHON (5:56 PM) —The incorporated speech read as follows—

The Healthcare Identifiers Bill 2010 is the first Bill that will introduce an e-health system to Australia.

e-Health is, to use a cliché, the way of the future.

Similar systems are in place or being developed in Europe, Canada and the USA and I’ve been advised that the technology currently being used has been not only highly secure but incredibly useful and beneficial.

e-Health offers doctors and patients access to accurate, up-to-date medical records and health information.

It will make changing doctors or being referred to specialists easier, especially for patients with complex medical conditions.

And having been in that boat myself, I can see how it will be helpful.

The transfer of records, x-rays, test results ... all the information we as patients forget or remember incorrectly, will be available to any doctor we see, anywhere in Australia, with the appropriate permissions, which can only benefit treatment of patients.

Such a system will also help to monitor ‘doctor shoppers’; patients who move from one doctor to another in order to collect multiple prescriptions, often in order to feed prescription drug habits.

However, while I do support the introduction of e-health, even at this very initial stage, I do have concerns regarding privacy.

I note that the Government has acknowledged these stakeholder concerns also, and I appreciate that.

It is vital that such a system does not compromise an individual’s privacy with regards not only to their health history but also any identifying information.

And as this scheme develops, I indicate now that I will be monitoring subsequent legislation very closely to ensure that the privacy of Australians remains in tact.

I understand that there have also been concerns expressed around ‘function creep’; that the Unique Healthcare Identifier number may gradually be expanded to include purposes and functions it was not originally intended to be used for.

The legislation as it currently stands only allocates the use of the Unique Healthcare Identifier to health, and it must stay this way.

I think it’s important at this stage that we recognise that this particular Bill does not establish the actual working system of electronic health records; it simply puts the framework for such a system to be established in place.

Therefore, there will be further stages where thorough review will be conducted and I look forward to debating the subsequent legislation concerning the implementation of this scheme, and the associated issues that will be raised with it.

I support this Bill, and I support the establishment of e-Health in Australia.

I believe that, with the appropriate scrutiny and safeguards, that such a system will be a good thing for Australians, and a positive step in improving our healthcare system.