AU: New privacy guidance to assist private health service providers

From the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, this media release:

The Australian Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis, has today issued new privacy guidance materials for medical practitioners and other health service providers and the public.

“The new guidance materials are the culmination of an extensive consultation process by my Office, and offer health care professionals and members of the public greater clarity about whether particular practices are permitted under the Privacy Act,” said Ms Curtis.

Released on the Office’s website, the guidance materials consist of five information sheets for healthcare in the Australian private sector, and seven FAQs for members of the public.

The information sheets address the following issues:

  • Fees that can be charged for patients to access their records.
  • Use and disclosure of health information for managing a health service.
  • Sharing health information within a treating team.
  • Sharing health information with relatives of an incapacitated patient.
  • Denial of access to health information due to a serious threat to life or health.

The FAQs answer questions relating to: patients accessing their medical records, who doctors can disclose patient information to, and whether doctors need to obtain the patient’s consent.

Ms Curtis stated that the guidance materials will also serve to dispel some myths associated with privacy in the health sector:

“Medical practitioners may not, for example, realise that it is not always necessary to seek a patient’s direct consent for every treatment-related disclosure within a treating team. The guidance materials clarify that disclosure could be permitted as long as the patient would reasonably expect this disclosure to occur.”

The development of the guidance materials included consultations with representatives from the health, consumer and privacy sectors.

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