Australia's nationwide EHR experiences rise in data breaches, 2017-18 report shows

A new national EHR in Australia sustained 42 data breaches between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, leading critics to call for a yearlong delay of the system's full rollout, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Five things to know:

1. The Australian government is working to create a national EHR, dubbed My Health Record, for all 24.7 million of its citizens. Six million Australians have signed onto the EHR's database, and that figure is expected to increase by an estimated 17 million after the opt-out period ends Jan. 31.

2. The government's vision for the universal EHR is to facilitate better care coordination, however, privacy advocates and health practitioners have questioned the program, citing distrust in the government's security and privacy practices. More than 20,000 Australians opted out of the EHR the first day the government offered the option.

3. In its 2017-18 report, the Australian Digital Health Agency noted 42 breaches of the EHR system. One incident related to a child who was mistakenly given parental authorization to view a record, 24 related to suspected cases of Medicare fraud and 17 were related to "intertwined" Medicare records, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The agency reported 35 breaches with similar causes in 2016-17.

4. Dr. Kerryn Phelps, independent member of Parliament and former president of the Australian Medical Association, told The Sydney Morning Herald she was calling for a 12-month delay of My Health Record's full rollout to allow consumers more time to be informed of the potential privacy ramifications.

"We've been consistently reassured by the minister that no such privacy breaches had occurred," Dr. Phelps said. "This was confirmation that there have been privacy breaches, some serious, and it shows the potential for further privacy breaches as this database comes online and becomes more used."

5. A spokesperson for the Australian Digital Health Agency told The Sydney Morning Herald these breaches were not intentional, mirroring the report's finding that there were no "purposeful" or "malicious" attacks that compromised security of the EHR system.

"There have been no reported unauthorized views of a person's health information in My Health Record in the six years of its operations," the agency told The Sydney Morning Herald. "Errors of this type occur due to either alleged fraudulent Medicare claims or manual human processing errors, as was the case for breaches reported during the 2017-18 financial year."

To download the Australian Digital Health Agency's report, click here.

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