61.1 Traditionally, health information has been collected and stored in paper-based systems, with information about one individual held in a number of disparate locations, such as general practitioners’ records, hospital records, and medical specialists’ records. Increasingly, however, health information is collected, stored and transferred in electronic form and health information about large numbers of health consumers is collected into central databases, such as the Medicare database and cancer registers. Another important trend is the move to integrate health information systems and to create shared electronic health records. Sharing and linking of health information about particular health consumers has the potential to achieve better public and private health outcomes by allowing health service providers better access to health information. It also gives rise to privacy concerns.

61.2 In this chapter, the ALRC considers these developments and concludes that the collection of health information into electronic health information systems does not require specific legislative control, provided that the Privacy Act is updated and amended as recommended in this Report. The Australian Government proposal to establish national shared electronic health records (SEHR) based on a unique healthcare identifiers (UHIs) system, to be developed separately, however, should be based on specific enabling legislation. The linking of electronic health information for the purposes of research is discussed in Chapter 66.