New Bill – Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records

Lucy Meagher and Jessica Kinny
The Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2011 (Cth) (Consequential Bill) has been introduced to ensure that the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 (Cth) (PCEHR Bill), once enacted, operates appropriately and effectively.  
The PCEHR System
In the 2010-11 Budget, the Government committed $466.7 million to a two-year program to build the national infrastructure for the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) system. 
To date, individuals’ health information has been dispersed across a range of locations rather than being attached to the patient, and individuals need to repeat their medical history each time they visit a new clinician.  This could result in poor information flows, unnecessary retesting, delays and errors.
The PCEHR initiative aims to revolutionise Australian healthcare by enabling consumers who register to access their own health information online, and making it available to participating health professionals, when and where it is needed.  The quality and quantity of information available to health professionals when they treat a patient is also potentially improved.  
An electronic health (e-health) record will contain a health summary including conditions, medications, allergies and vaccinations, and an indexed summary of specific healthcare events.  Notably, the PCEHR Bill prescribes the circumstances in which e-health information can be collected, used or disclosed and imposes civil penalties for knowing or reckless unauthorised collection, use or disclosure.
The Consequential Bill
Australians rightly do not want their privacy threatened, so it is necessary for the PCEHR system to strike a balance between security and access.  The Consequential Bill amends the Healthcare Identifiers Act 2010 (Cth) to allow healthcare identifiers to play a central role in the integrity, security and safety of the PCEHR system.  Unique identifiers will be assigned to, and used by, each registered consumer, healthcare provider and healthcare provider organisation.  This supports the secure and accurate sharing of records within the system by:
  • ensuring that information about a consumer’s health is attached to the PCEHR of the right consumer; 
  • restricting the ability to author a clinical record for the PCEHR system to qualified healthcare providers; and 
  • ensuring that the PCEHR system is accessible only to those healthcare provider organisations that meet technical and security requirements.
The Consequential Bill also amends the Health Insurance Act 1973 (Cth) and the National Health Act 1953 (Cth) to enable Medical Benefits Scheme, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, organ donor and childhood immunisation information to be included in a consumer’s PCEHR if the consumer chooses to have that information included.
Registrations to participate in the PCEHR system start from 1 July 2012.  

To learn more about e-health, click here.
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This update does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest and it is not intended to be comprehensive. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.