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How to manage the coming ‘tsunami’ of paper health records

The case for a centralised electronic system

In 2018, as the Australian Government sought to engage the community in signing up for a digital My Health Record, BehaviourWorks’ A/Prof of Healthcare Quality Improvement, Peter Bragge, wrote a piece for The Conversation highlighting the risks moving from paper to electronic health records.


With Chris Bain, Professor of Practice in Digital Heath, Monash University, Peter was subsequently invited to provide expert evidence at a Senate Inquiry on the issue in September 2018.


While the community maintained significant concerns around the management of their records, 9 out of 10 Australians now have a My Health Record.


While this is good news, Peter has published a subsequent piece in The Conversation urging hospitals, GP clinics and other health centres to develop and implement stronger policies and procedures around how and when medical records should be destroyed.


The piece, co-written by lead author Gillian Oliver, who is Director of the Centre for Organisational & Social Informatics at Monash University, highlights a recent breach in Queensland where paper records were found on a busy Brisbane street.


The authors notes that, while governments and all levels have enacted legislation requiring records to be kept for a certain period of time (typically 10 years), there are inconsistencies in the system – particularly around record keeping of how (i.e. the method) and when files are destroyed.


They also have concerns around how medical centres are going to deal with the “tsunami” of paper health records as we move forward and how staff are going to adequately determine whether an individual medical record among the vast quantities held “has passed its use by date”.


A costly problem

The cost involved in managing, storing and disposing records may also become so great that records may be accidentally or deliberately dumped “wherever, whenever”.


“As long as paper records exist they will be vulnerable to unauthorised access – either within a storage facility or in transit to destruction.


“They are calling for a more centralised, electronic management system, arguing that privacy breaches relating to paper medical records will remain great.


Peter points to recent BehaviourWorks’ research that showed it was possible to encourage people to use online government services.


“By harnessing behavioural science, we have shown that providing customer support and promoting the benefits and ease of online services helps the transition from queuing and paper forms to using online services.”

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