Privacy Blueprint For Unique Healthcare Identifiers

The effectiveness of Australia’s healthcare system relies on the ability to uniquely and accurately identify individuals. Healthcare requires the constant collection, exchange and transmission of health information. This is usually in the context of information about a single patient being exchanged between multiple healthcare providers. Therefore it is critical for patient safety and privacy that this information exchange occurs reliably and securely.

The Council of Australian Governments has committed Australia to a single, national approach to identifying individuals and healthcare providers for the purposes of health communications. This approach, being developed by NEHTA, is known as the Unique Healthcare Identification (UHI) Service.

The UHI Service will involve the allocation, issuing and maintenance of unique identifiers for individuals (known as the Individual Healthcare Identifier or IHI) and healthcare providers (the Healthcare Provider Identifier or HPI).

As important health information about patients is shared between clinicians, it must be absolutely clear which patient the particular information relates to. The current practice of identifying patients - often by simply using their name and address - is not safe enough. Identifying individuals by a unique number offers significantly greater protection for this information. The IHI will only be used to identify individuals for the purposes of healthcare; and individuals will not be required to produce an IHI to receive healthcare.

The transmission of patient information must ensure reliable delivery to the right healthcare practitioner. Identifying every one of the 400,000+ healthcare providers in Australia by a unique number offers significantly greater reliability than using practitioner names and addresses.

From the outset, NEHTA has recognised that privacy is an issue of great concern to Australians – particularly in the health sector. Whilst NEHTA must manage the risks of a particularly complex legislative and regulatory environment we must also recognise that privacy perceptions of the Australian community play a major role in ensuring the success of e-health systems. As confidence and trust build upon a strong privacy foundation, the UHI Service will only be successful if it meets community expectations regarding privacy.

NEHTA has recently released a Privacy Blueprint – Unique Healthcare Identifiers which sets out a systematic framework to consider privacy issues and poses a number of strategies to address them.

The Privacy Blueprint aims to comprehensively identify the range of privacy issues that apply to a specific initiative, so that corresponding action steps may be subsequently undertaken to address those issues within the design, privacy impact assessment or implementation programs.

Adopting a privacy blueprint process ensures that NEHTA proactively considers privacy compliance issues and promotes a coordinated approach to privacy management.

This Privacy Blueprint also ensures that privacy is properly integrated into the UHI Service design and implementation, as well as being a critical mechanism for consultation on the UHI Service. The Privacy Blueprint outlines the nature and function of the UHI Service, and identifies key participants in the proposed system as well as the information involved and how it will be used.

A number of key privacy issues are then examined in detail, such as consent and notice, access, audit and secondary uses. These areas require consultation before the UHI Service can undergo a full privacy impact assessment or progress to implementation. The Privacy Blueprint aims to identify community concerns about these issues by using a series of specific questions within the discussion to elicit useful feedback. Such feedback will be incorporated into NEHTA's ongoing management of privacy issues and will inform future consultation documents and privacy policy decisions.

The Privacy Blueprint can be found at the NEHTA website.

National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA)

Posted in Australian eHealth

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