One in 10 eligible Australians – more than 2.5 million individuals – have elected not to join My Health Record, putting into sharp focus the wider public acceptance of the national digital health records scheme.
In a statement released by the Digital Health Agency (DTA), responsible for the rollout of the national database, nearly 23 million individuals were automatically signed up to the scheme at the conclusion of the final opt-out period, ending 31 January 2019, with 2.5 million opting to remove themselves from the system entirely.
This was the second extension of the initial opt-out window, originally set for October last year.
In a Senate estimates hearing today, DTA chief Tim Kelsey revealed that 2,517,921 individuals (9.9 per cent of eligible participants) elected not to participate in the scheme.
IT News reports that roughly half the final number of opt-outs – more than 1.25 million individuals – appear to have occurred after the final extension to the opt-out window.
Following intense scrutiny of the Government’s existing cybersecurity and access provisions, as well as an evident lack of public awareness of the scheme, the Senate granted a two-and-a-half-month extension to the opt-out window. A push by Labor and the Greens to extend the opt-out period by 12 months was rejected by the Government.
The digital health records scheme has been plagued by ongoing concerns around the Government’s capacity to secure participants’ data – stoked by a series of recent cyber breaches that have impacted multiple federal agencies.
Acknowledging these concerns, the Government added a number of safeguards and privacy measures to My Health Record before the final January opt-out date, including allowing participants to permanently delete their record. Harsher penalties for improper use of a participant’s record and tighter restrictions on agencies and police to access personal health records were also added.
In a statement, the DTA assured the public that the My Health Record scheme maintains “multi-layered and strong safeguards in place to protect your information including encryption, firewalls, secure login, authentication mechanisms and audit logging.”
“There are strict rules and regulations about who can see and use your My Health Record to protect your information from misuse,” it added.
The DTA advised that individuals who have left the scheme will still be able create a record “at any time in the future”.