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General Issue

The My Health Record System: Potential to Undermine the Paradigm of Patient Confidentiality?

Author

Gabrielle Wolf and Danuta Mendelson

Australia’s national electronic health records system – known as the ‘My Health Record (‘MHR’) system’ – may threaten to undermine the traditional paradigm of patient confidentiality within the therapeutic relationship. Historically, patients have felt comfortable imparting sensitive information to their health practitioners on the understanding that such disclosures are necessary and will be relied on principally for the purpose of treating them. The MHR system potentially facilitates access to patients’ health information by individuals and entities beyond the practitioners who are directly providing them with healthcare and, in some circumstances, without the patients’ consent. It may also enable patients’ health practitioners and their employees to read records that those practitioners did not create or receive in the course of treating the patients and that are irrelevant to their treatment of them. The MHR system could have harmful consequences for individual and public health if patients become unwilling to disclose information to their healthcare providers because they fear it will not remain confidential. In addition to examining the risks of breaches of patient confidentiality in the MHR system, this article considers how the potential benefits of an electronic health records system might be achieved while maintaining patient confidentiality to a significant extent.

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