The national peak body for Indigenous health workers says some practitioners in remote communities have not been adequately trained to advise patients on My Health Record, as the deadline to opt-out approaches.
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association CEO Karl Briscoe says the community of Hermannsburg, 125km south-west of Alice Springs, hasn’t received enough consultation or support.
“They knew of it, but they didn’t know the ‘ins and outs’ of opting out. So these are our health professionals that haven’t been provided with the training even to assist clients that are coming in the door,” he told NITV News.
“The process seems to be quite rushed or had inadequate consultation, especially for our rural communities.”
It comes despite the Australian Digital Health Agency having provided enhanced support services for Indigenous populations “that do not have access to, choose not to, or are unable to use the phone or online channels”.
A spokesperson said the agency has “undertaken an extensive communication strategy to inform all eligible Australians that they will have a My Health Record created in 2018, unless they choose not to”.
This includes paper forms in 2,385 rural and remote Australia Post outlets, 146 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACHHOS) and in 136 prisons.
Mr Briscoe, and other Indigenous health organisations, have cautiously backed the digital health record saying it can be beneficial in closing the health disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
But Mr Briscoe says there are ‘many unknowns'.
“It is a positive, but there are privacy concerns,” he said. “It is quite concerning about who controls the data.”
On Monday, the senate passed a motion calling on the government to “extend or suspend the opt-out period until the legislation and any amendments are passed, outstanding privacy and security issues are addressed and public confidence in this important reform is restored”.
But the changes have not been legislated yet and under the current timetable the opt-out period is due to finish on Thursday. Once it does, the government will begin creating records for around 17 million Australians.
The government has promised to change the scheme so anyone who wants to delete their My Health Record at any time after November 15 can do so, but there are also concerns about how people living in remote communities will manage their My Health Record in areas with little internet connectivity.
Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services CEO Vicki O’Donnell told the ABC while there have been measures to inform health care practitioners working in remote areas, there was an initial oversight on the complex needs of educating Australians with limited digital literacy.
“The concern was that our mob were not informed of their records going up into the cloud, they had no idea of what part of their record was in the cloud and they had no information about how they could opt-out," she said.
Karl Briscoe holds similar concerns and said even communities that are connected and digitally literate could find navigating the MyGov site a challenge.
“I couldn’t imagine someone who doesn’t have that IT literacy to be able to do that and I don’t think there has been enough consultation in terms of our rural and remote areas to provide them with the informed information on how to opt-out," he said.
You can read more about My Health Record, or opt-out here.