My Health Record fuels family violence fears
WOMEN in violent relationships fear their partner will be able to track down their hiding places through their child's My Health Record, a leaked submission into a senate inquiry claims.
News Corp has learned The Australian Digital Health Agency's (ADHA) default position is to allow those parents access to their children's My Health records which could contain information such as residential addresses or the pharmacy or GP used by the parent.
And where there is a dispute between separated parents over who can access the child's record, the ADHA will suspend both parents' access to the record until it investigates and decides which parent should have access.
"We work on the instruction of either of the parents who have equivalent status," the Australian Digital Health Agency told its steering committee on August 20.
"The System Operator can also suspend a record until disputes have been investigated and a solution resolved," the agency said.
Every Australian will get a My Health Record from mid- November unless they opt out and growing privacy concerns have sparked a Senate inquiry that starts hearings today (Tuesday).
The National Council of Single Mothers and their Children in their submission to the inquiry said it was their "understanding that the system allows a parent who does not have primary custody the capacity to create a My Health Record on their child's behalf, without the consent or knowledge of their former partner".
"I further understand that this can occur even if the parent with primary care has exercised the right to 'Opt out' or if they have already created a My Health Record," NCSMC CEO Terese Edwards said.
The council wrote to Health Minister Greg Hunt and the Australian Digital Health Agency over a month ago asking for clarification on how the system would protect women and children from violent and controlling partners but has not yet had a response.
"NCSMC has received an email with the created ID (41318) and a message informing us that an Australian Digital Health Agency representative will be in contact, but at the time of writing this submission we have not received contact from either the Minister for Health or the Australian Digital Health Agency," Ms Edwards said.
They are calling for the record to be scrapped or switched back to an opt in system to protect women and children from violence.
News Corp can reveal the ADHA has advised its own My Health Record Expansion Program Steering Group that it will suspend a child's record if a parent complains but will then act as judge and jury and make its own decision about which parent gets power over the record.
"When the record is suspended no representatives can access the child's health information in their My Health Record," the advice says.
"In line with the policies of other government agencies, the System Operator then investigates eligibility. Following investigation, an Authorised Representative's access can be reinstated where appropriate," the advice states.
The NCSWC says 'loopholes' within the record can provide an abusive ex-partner with access to details including the location of medical practitioners and pharmacies attended by the child with their primary caregiver.
"Women who have fled violent partners may have the locations of their health care services exposed to their abusive ex-partner potentially narrowing down the locations of victims in hiding," it says in its submission to the Senate inquiry.
The council provides two recent examples where a woman's ex-husband had a different Medicare card number.
"I can't stop him creating My Health Record for the children and if he takes them to their specialists or Doctors and they place it onto the My Health Record he has created he could potentially find out our address," the woman says.
"This places our safety at risk, he has made threats to kill. No way around it unless you have Sole Parental Responsibility through the Court I have been told. Family court ordered that I have full custody," the woman says.
Another woman said when she rang to opt her children out of a My Health Record "I was informed that a digital record had already been made for my children and myself I was put onto someone else who helped me over the phone to opt out," she said.
Law Council of Australia President Morry Bailes said family violence cases are particularly sensitive and it is critical that appropriate mechanisms are in place to protect the privacy of the information.
"It is of grave concern if this highly sensitive and private information is not able to be protected and has the potential to be accessed by violent parties," Mr Bailes said.
"This issue must be urgently addressed and information provided to the community for those who may be at risk of family violence or harm," he said.
The ADHA told News Corp: "A parent who has a concern regarding a non-custodial parents or another authorised representatives access to their child's My Health Record can call 1800 723 471 where the Record can be immediately suspended (which removes access to any representatives). When the record is suspended no representatives can access the child's health information in their My Health Record."
The ADHA said this protection had been in place for six years under the 2012 legislation.