The opt out period for withdrawing from the My Health Record has been postponed for a further three months. This is the third delay in the implementation of the scheme to grant all Australians a default, although initially blank, online health record.

The scheme was first scheduled to commence in mid October 2018 after an initial three month opt out period. Health Minister Greg Hunt has acceded to pressure from the privacy lobby to delay the implementation until 31 January 2019.

In November the Senate sent the Bill back to the Lower House recommending amendments in two key areas. If accepted the amendments will require (1) law enforcement agencies to have a court order to access My Health Record data and (2) that a person opting out can request the complete destruction of their record. Previously the data was held for 30 years after the person’s death but it was illegal for the system to make the information available.

The Australian Digital Health Agency, responsible for the implementation and running of the My Health Record, also faced embarrassing questions over the resignation of its Director of Privacy, Nicole Hunt, in October 2018. The reasons for the resignation have not been released by ADHA but it is rumoured there was also some internal concerns about the current implementation of the privacy aspects of the MHR. Ms Hunt now works for the ANZ bank.

There could be even further delays to the MHR commencement date with the Labor Party calling for an extension of the opt-out period to 12 months to allow for further debate and public comment.

The constant media exposure has at least brought the subject of the My Health Record to the attention of many patients. North Coast GPs are reporting older patients, particularly retirees and those with chronic medical conditions, are more willing to opt in. They are less concerned about privacy issues and more about potentially serious medical mishap due to the failure to share important information between medical practitioners both within and outside the hospital system.

Younger patients are generally healthier and many see the risk of their data falling into the hands of insurance companies and employers as being too high. They are willing to continue current arrangements and manage their own health data in conjunction with their usual general practice.

When the MHR changes to an opt out record the numbers of participants will rise from 6 to over 20 million. The task for GPs will be to keep an increasing number of Shared Health Summaries relevant with updated information about the patients’ medical conditions and medications. This is a not insignificant task.

Fortunately, many practices already have systems in place to create accurate and timely summaries but the financing of this increased workload is unclear with the details of the new PIP arrangements yet to be made public.

The only solace for GPs is that they too can opt out.