02.Medical records and eHealth
Keeping track of your records
Whichever practice you end up going to, ideally your medical records should go with you.
- If you change GPs you can either authorise your old practice to provide a copy or summary of your health information to your new GP, or ask your new GP to write and request the information themselves.
- If the practice you usually go to closes down, or if your GP leaves the practice or dies, things aren’t so simple. In general there’s very little regulation about what happens to your medical records in these situations, and it varies in each state and territory. In Victoria, for example, the law stipulates that patients must be provided with written notice about what’s going to happen to their records, where practical, and a notice must also be placed in a local newspaper. Similar laws exist in the ACT. But in other states you may not be given that consideration.
Storage of records
- In the case of medical records that aren’t transferred or claimed, arrangements might have been made for them to be stored securely under a third party’s supervision.
- In several states there are laws that specify how long records must be kept before they can be destroyed. So if you don’t get a chance to claim your records before the practice closes, you might be able to track them down after the event.
- But if you’re not informed of their whereabouts or you happen to miss the notice in the paper, there’s not a lot you can do. Not only is this an issue of privacy — who knows who might have access to the records while they’re in limbo? — but at best it’s an inconvenience and at worst a health risk for patients to be deprived of access to their medical histories.
There are professional guidelines for the management of health information, including the retention of medical records in GP practices, but CHOICE thinks they should be made law.
The Federal Government’s vision is a national, cradle-to-grave, electronic health record for all Australians. Your eHealth record would hold your complete medical history from diagnosis details and treatments to all contacts you’ve had with the health system.
In theory this appears to be a sensible move. Having eHealth records could help prevent unnecessary or inappropriate treatment, and could provide protection against potential adverse drug interactions and allergies. And there are clear benefits for some consumers in not having to repeat complex medical histories if visiting a range of health professionals.
But in practice there are unresolved issues, primarily relating to privacy — it’s uncertain as to where and how consumers’ information will be stored, and who will have access to the records, for example. And with the nightmare current plan that each state and territory will implement and manage its own eHealth initiative, things are complicated even further.
CHOICE wants all consumer concerns to be addressed before this eHealth vision becomes a reality.