Our say | Healthy debate over government’s database

THE rapid digitisation of information has left us all walking a thin line between the convenience it offers and the threat of Big Brother.

We all enjoy the benefits of online banking and shopping, but wonder at times if we’re giving away too much of ourselves to companies and the government.

In the end, each of us must decide how comfortable we are with the reality of our new world and adjust our behaviour accordingly, but it will be different for each person.

Which goes some way to explaining the mixed response to the introduction of the federal government’s My Health Record.

The benefits of having your health records online must be obvious to the six million people who have registered since My Health was launched on a voluntary basis in 2012.

If you are admitted to emergency or fall sick while travelling or if you see multiple GPs, My Health lets your doctor see your full records including pre-existing conditions, medications, medical imaging and allergies.

There is also a financial benefit, with the government hoping a centralised health database will save money over the long term by avoiding the need for unnecessary doctor visits and tests.

But medical records are, by their nature, intensely private. Few of us would like to think our most personal issues might find their way on to a public website, whether by accident or nefarious design.

Even the “opt-out” clauses that gave people the chance not to join the national database created some suspicions, and the more watered down the system is allowed to come the less effective it can be.

So Health Minister Greg Hunt's timely intervention intervention this week seems to have moved the whole debate back towards a sensible compromise.

He has promised to redraft the law so My Health information is reserved solely for health practitioners and patients and not available to other government departments, police or the private sector unless a judge issues a warrant.

Mr Hunt is also right to clarify and strengthen patients' existing right to determine what is entered into the database and to delete historical information if they choose.

Tellingly, the government may have to delay the start of the scheme to get this done but much better to do it right the first time.

With appropriate revisions, My Health Record deserves our trust and should go into effect.