Victorian Bill to Implement an Electronic Health Information Sharing Platform Introduced

Thursday 21 October 2021 @ 1.55 p.m. | Legal Research

On 5 October 2021, the Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2021 (Vic) (‘the Bill’) was introduced to the Victorian Legislative Assembly by Minister for Health Martin Foley.

The second reading speech for the Bill was delivered by Assistant Treasurer Danny Pearson (‘the Assistant Treasurer’), he stated the purpose of the Bill was to:

“ enable information-sharing between specified health services, through a  centralised platform operated and managed by the Department of Health; … The Bill will amend the Health Services Act 1988 to establish a health information platform, for relevant health services to share certain health information for the purpose of providing medical treatment and care to patients”.

The amendments contained within the Bill also aim to contribute to the Victorian government’s commitment to the 2016 Targeting Zero Report, the overarching goal of which is to “[support] the Victorian hospital system to eliminate avoidable harm and strengthen quality of care”.

The Need for a Consolidated and Shared Health Information Platform

In his second reading speech of the Bill, the Assistant Treasurer spoke about the various factors culminating in a need for “the availability of complete and accurate health information at the right time and at the right place”.

He outlined that it is common for Victorians to attend several different services simultaneously for various medical needs and treatments, and that when a patient attends a new health service, it is important that each clinician can be made quickly aware of their medical history. The Assistant Treasurer argued that an information sharing platform, which could present a “consolidated picture of a patient’s medical and health history” would help respond to this need, and furthermore, would contribute to the efficiency of the wider Victorian healthcare system. 

Various recent factors have contributed to the development of this Bill, including the bushfire crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Assistant Treasurer further explained that:

“both the bushfire crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic … [have] exposed the barriers to health information sharing and some consequences of those barriers for patients and clinical staff”.

Specifically, he stated that while there are over 15 different laboratories undertaking and contributing to COVID-19 testing, hospital clinicians are only able to access results of tests performed by their own pathology service. Consequently, he said that this “delays patient care, increases the risk of exposure of patients and staff to COVID and adds a further administration burden”.

He also noted that more generally, the lack of ability to match patient information and share it with different clinicians can lead to “unintended injury, infections, problems with medications, as well as unnecessary duplication of diagnostic tests”.

Protecting Personal Information 

The Bill seeks to establish a new information sharing system. However, in recognising the potential dangers of collating and sharing inherently personal information, the Bill also proposes several safety measures to avoid a situation where information is wrongly accessed or used.

The main safety measures under the Bill is the proposed introduction of new criminal offences, being:

  • unauthorised access to the information sharing platform;
  • access to the platform for an unauthorised purpose; and
  • unauthorised use or disclosure of information obtained from the platform.

Each offence carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

Moreover, the Assistant Treasurer assured in his second reading speech that there would be “real-time business processes and audit checks in place”, as well as the use of “Next-Generation antivirus tools” to protect the information on the platform.

Other protections proposed by the Bill include:

  • an independent review of the information sharing platform and its effectiveness after two years;
  • the establishment of an oversight body in order to advise on operational decisions to ensure safety and security of the platform; and
  • higher confidentiality protections for sensitive information including information regarding family violence, child protection, sexual health and mental health.

Ultimately, the Bill seeks to modernise the Victorian healthcare system, and in the process ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of Victorians. In concluding his second reading speech, the Assistant Treasurer summarised the intended impact of the Bill by stating:

“The availability of complete and accurate health information at the right time and place saves lives. It is essential to providing the best care and treatment for patients across Victoria”.

The Bill has passed the lower house without amendments, and is yet to pass the upper house.

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Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2021 (Vic) and explanatory materials available from TimeBase's LawOne website

‘Targeting Zero’ – Report of the Review of Hospital Safety and Quality Assurance in Victoria (Department of Health and Human Services, 2016)

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