Source: ABC Kimberly Author: Emily Jane Smith
Rural health experts are concerned the Federal Government has overlooked how individuals and medical practitioners will manage a digital health record in areas with little internet connectivity.
Aboriginal medical organisations have been working to ensure those without internet access know they will have a My Health Record and have the means to opt-out.
The CEO of the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Vicki O'Donnell said that while the Australian Digital Health Agency took some measures to inform health care practitioners working in remote areas, there was an initial oversight on the complex needs of educating and empowering 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.
"Particularly out in the desert areas, English is a second language, they don't have access to internet."
She said 'intensive consultation' was being conducted in some remote Aboriginal communities but more education would be needed.
"The Kimberley is a large area. We know we haven't educated and consulted with everybody."
Unable to use the internet
Nina Maraltadj lives in Kalumburu — one of the most remote communities in the country — and participated in a My Health Record workshop. She said the benefits of the record were explained and that she could opt out.
"It's easy for us to look into our medical records whenever we would like to know what's going on with our health," she said.
"You can get access to it anywhere, if you go to different towns. It will be good for the people who travel around a lot."
But Ms Maraltadj said many in her community — including herself — were unable to use the internet, so independently managing their records would not be possible. She was unsure of how exactly she could opt out.
"I don't know how to use the internet and mobile phones, I'm still learning," she said.
The Government has provided Aboriginal medical services with forms people can fax that will mean they can opt out of the system, eliminating the need for phone and internet access.
But there is no formal arrangement for the ongoing management of a digital record for a consumer with no phone access, internet access or limited digital literacy.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Australian Digital Health Agency said it had worked with Aboriginal medical organisations to raise awareness.
"The Agency has also recognised that people with limited digital literacy, and people living in rural and remote regions, will need additional support to learn about the benefits of having a My Health Record, and support with opting out if they choose to do so."
My Health Record could 'save lives'
Dr Bek Ledingham, WA Rural Doctors Association of Australia vice president, said if executed right, an online summary of key health information such as that in the My Health Record, would be invaluable in remote settings where patients are often transient and their medical history is difficult to access.
"There are multiple circumstances I can see [where] it would have saved people's lives if we were able to access that kind of information."
Although Dr Ledingham is supportive of a digital record, she said part of its success relied on how well My Health Records could be accessed in places with poor internet.
"If [the records] take too long to access and that delays consults, it would have a negative impact," she said.
Connectivity a 'serious' concern
Many Aboriginal communities across Australia have remote health clinics in areas where internet speeds are unreliable and slow.
Mark Diamond, the Rural Health Alliance CEO, said this had been a serious concern for remote healthcare practitioners.
"We are keen to make sure that those connectivity issues, particularly in remote Aboriginal communities, are addressed as a priority," he said.
"The practitioners need to access the information … they absolutely need to be connected."
Mr Diamond said health care providers had an obligation to assist people in understanding My Health Records.
"Some may be resistant to that because it takes more time," he said.
"It's not going to be a separate or additional tool, it's going to be integral to how we work with people."