New week, same shemozzle
One day in the not-too-distant future, communications and business students in universities across the land will sign up for a course called Marketing Disasters 101 and be presented with a case study about the utter train wreck that was the great My Health Record opt-out launch of July 2018.
Pretty much the only thing that could have made this week's debacle worse would have been an actual breach of the system itself. On Monday morning, a huge gang of online activists were just waiting for the clock to tick over to opt out before they let all hell break loose, and my word did they succeed. Social and mass media were dominated in the morning by stories about long delays and system collapses, and by the afternoon it had turned into a veritable production line of tinfoil hats.
One absolute hero got on the phone at 7am to opt out and then for the next few hours martyred himself to the cause by giving 10-minute updates on Twitter about how long he had to wait on the hotline. In the afternoon, he took to claiming that the use of the reCaptcha plug-in on the opt-out website meant everyone's identity verification information was now being flogged off to Google.
Some of his confreres then began to inspect the legalistic language used in the My Health Record privacy statement, in its terms and conditions and the opt-out legislation itself, where they found some juicy references to law enforcement authorities and other third parties being given access to citizens' personal health information.
That set off an explosion in far-fetched fantasies, with everyone from the tax department to private health insurers apparently being granted access to your medical history, even down to your local council. We must admit that gave us pause for thought. What would the council do if it found out about your haemorrhoids? Cancel your library card?
Legitimate concerns over privacy and security were subsumed into mass hysteria, leading to the ABC's Norman Swan sending out an exasperated tweet saying the debate had been hijacked by privacy ideologues. The rearguard kicked in later in the week with some of the peak bodies coming forward but they were very much drowned out by worst-case scenario media reporting. The narrative was all about the bad things that could happen and it appears that the Australian Digital Health Agency and Health Minister Greg Hunt were completely unprepared for the ferocity of the reaction.
They shouldn't have been. Fears over privacy breaches and mistrust in government is at an all-time high at the moment, not helped by continuing revelations about Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Russian interference in the US and UK elections, all kept in the spotlight spectacularly this week by Donald Trump's comical path of destruction through NATO, Helsinki and even the Queen.
Closer to home, mistrust in our government is also at an all-time high, not helped by appalling examples such as the woman who criticised Centrelink and had her details given to the media by then Human Services Minister Alan Tudge. The fears of many concerned over government control of personal data were summed up perfectly this week by the Guardian's resident cartoonist First Dog on the Moon.
The whole debacle has Labor rubbing its hands with glee. An ALP source told Pulse+IT just recently that the party would not attack the government over the MyHR or opt-out itself – the PCEHR was a Labor initiative after all, and it voted in favour of opt out, as did the Greens – but instead they will be on the front foot about the incompetence of the government's delivery of it.
The people who should have been on the front feet were the promoters, and they failed dismally. Sending out peppy tweets about which obscure peak body supports the My Health Record was not enough. They needed to run a TV advertising campaign at least two weeks ago, announcing opt out would begin on July 16 and here's where you can go to find more information. Consumer packs should have been at GPs and pharmacists long before now. We popped down to our local shopping centre on Saturday, where there are three chemists and one Australia Post outlet, and there was nothing, so it's no surprise that many people are bewildered. The narrative about the positives of the system was lost on the first day.
People of authority should have been out there spruiking the benefits of the system, but admittedly that is quite hard to do when there are no measurable benefits as yet. That fact in itself is an absolute indictment of the people who have failed to properly deliver this initiative over the last six years.
That sad truth was illustrated later in the week with the release of a clinical safety review of the MyHR by the Safety and Quality Commission. It reported that the system needed a streamlined way to present new and pertinent clinical information to clinicians, just like their own clinical systems do. It also found that most clinicians didn't think anyone was listening to their feedback even when it was requested. If you remember back that far, those are two of the main issues that forced the resignation of NEHTA's clinical leads team in August 2013. Five years and nothing much has changed.
The drama will slow down and the chatter will dissipate over the next few weeks, but there's no doubt it will erupt again when 18 million new records are created in November. People who already have a record, even if they didn't know about it, are all having a close look now and discovering some mistakes. One woman reported this week that there was an entry in the MBS section of her record with a doctor she had never visited for a CT scan she never had. With MBS and PBS data full of such mistakes, get set for another car crash come December.
This week's drama will all blow over, as it always does, and the My Health Record will trundle on as usual. Who knows? It might actually work properly one day. What is for sure is that the roll-out of this system, which Norman Swan described as the most important piece of health infrastructure in a generation, has redefined the very word shemozzle.
According to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, about 20,000 people managed to opt out on Monday, although ADHA tells us that they won't be providing a running total. Some people will opt out on a paper form so these need to be reconciled after the opt-out period is over. We're still betting on 500,000 opting out – with 24,000,000 staying in.
That brings us to our poll for the week. Last week, we asked whether you would opt out of the My Health Record. 33 per cent said yes, while 67 per cent said no. Interestingly, the last time we asked this question was in March 2017, when we had 34 per cent saying yes and 66 per cent no. Not much changes.
This week, we'll ask another question we have asked before to see if anything has changed after this week's events. In April, we asked if you thought more than two per cent of the population would opt out or less, remembering that the opt out rate in the 2016 trials was 1.9 per cent. 56 per cent said more, while 44 per cent said less.
After this week, let's ask that one again and see if you've changed your mind. Do you think more than 2% will opt out, or less?
Sign up to our weekend edition to vote or leave your thoughts below.