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Digital Health Records: Connecting the Dots

You’ve just taken a loved one to the hospital. Can you provide the emergency staff with all the information they need? Medical reports, allergies, medications. If only you could access it on your phone. Well, you can, provided the patient is registered with the Australian government’s My Health Record programme and has been using it to update all their medical information.

Digitising of medical records has been a controversial issue worldwide due to privacy concerns. Some worry that if the information is made available to insurance companies, it could impact their ability to get the right insurance. Others are concerned about control over their own medical records.

However, there is no denying that digital records can result in huge productivity gains in our healthcare system, ultimately benefiting the consumer. Here are some advantages of digitised medical records.

  • Faster emergency care.
  • Better access to cures, preventive treatment and treatment pathways.
  • Better access to medical consultation.
  • Accurate data availability for research.
  • Better policy decisions, tailored for the community’s needs.
  • Greater accuracy when information is relayed to different departments.
  • Ability to create support systems connecting affected individuals.
  • Better information and understanding of an individual’s health, leading to better decision-making.
  • Comprehensive information about the patient at point-of-care.
  • Superior monitoring of medical conditions for better outcomes.
  • Easy transfer of medical records when changing doctors.

While not all the benefits will be seen immediately, The Australian government has made a start by introducing a few digital initiatives through the Australian Digital Health Agency.
There are three programmes:

  • My Health Record
  • Telehealth
  • Healthcare Identifiers Service

Australians are taking to the new initiatives. According to the Department of Health’s website, as of March 2017, over 4.6 million individuals (approx. 19% of Australia’s population) have a My Health Record and over 9,766 health care providers are registered. As expected, the uptake has been more in the younger age group with the 20 and under comprising 34%, and 65+ accounting for only 16%. Queenslanders have been the most eager to sign up with 26% of the state’s population registered.

Digital Health Records

My Health Record:

A My Health Record will contain all your important medical information – allergies, current conditions and treatment. All other details such as CT scans, X-rays and pathology reports can be stored too, eliminating the need to hold and carry physical copies. Doctors, specialists and hospital emergency staff will be able to access these online in the case of an emergency or accident. It is a bit like a health wallet. The other information it can hold is:

  • Prescriptions – current and historical
  • Medicare claims history
  • Organ donation decision and details
  • Any information you’d like to add which may be relevant to medical care.
  • Advance care document (your wishes regarding your healthcare or treatment in case you are unable to communicate)
    If your health provider is also linked to My Health Records, they will be able to upload your information directly, saving you the effort of scanning documents.


This programme has been around for some time and is part of the larger digital health strategy. Australia is a vast country with unequal access to medical resources. Telehealth is aimed at using technology to close the gap. For instance,

  • The telehealth programme allows individuals in eligible areas to have access to specialist video consultations under Medicare.
  • It enables eligible aged care facilities to access medical opinion without transporting older people in fragile health.
  • Patients of the Aboriginal Medical Services are covered all over the country

Digital Health Records

Healthcare Identifiers Service:

Being able to identify individuals and health care providers accurately is essential to eliminate errors from the system. For instance, calling up a user’s information is more accurate with a number than a name. The government, therefore, assigns a number to every healthcare user and provider. This number is different from the number on the Medicare card. There are three kinds of identifiers:

  • Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI) is your personal healthcare identifier number
  • Healthcare Provider Identifier (HPI-I) is the identifier number for your healthcare provider – your GP or specialist.
  • Healthcare Provider Identifier – Organisation (HPI-O) is the number for the organisation where you received car – the hospital or medical clinic.

All these initiatives are a part of a larger vision to provide better quality healthcare to Australians. To find out more, go to the Department of Health website.

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