Monday, August 30, 2010

Big brother - a mere 26 years late

Last 24 June Julia Gillard became Prime Minister of Australia. Predictably, Kevin Rudd’s ousting and Julia Gillard’s ascension created a media frenzy. So hardly anyone noticed a momentous event that occurred on 25 June, i.e. passage through the Senate of the Healthcare Identifiers Bill 2010 [1]. This Act [2], which received Royal Assent on 28 June, enables the compulsory allocation (no opting out) of a 16-digit electronic healthcare identifying number to every Australian [3]. This number will store each individual’s name, address and birthdate. No clinical information will be stored with it. All healthcare providers will use this unique number for each patient. Use of the identifiers will allegedly facilitate communication between providers. The clinical information collected and stored by each provider will not be seen by other providers. The identifiers will be gradually rolled out by Medicare Australia, nominally from last 1 July. The system’s predicted to become fully operational next October [4]. After that, doctors, hospitals and the Australian public can obtain the numbers by telephoning Medicare Australia. The identifier’s use may reduce government healthcare costs, but as it’s not linked to clinical data it can’t per se benefit patients. It reeks of Big Brother and 1984. Twenty six years late. It’s enough to make me quiver in my boots. And George Orwell (pictured) to roll over in his grave [5, 6]. Ho hum.

No comments: