eHealth – how not to do it

Yesterday I received a letter, yes, a genuine letter printed on nice paper from a local hospital inviting me to apply for an eHealth record. (eHealth is an Australian government initiative to link up individual medical practice records and aggregate data so that eventually your doctor, your optometerist, your dentist, and the random doctor you went to in Darwin when you unexpectedly came down with a chest infection can all see your past history).

As I’m interested in identity management I thought I’d go and step through the registration to see how they’d done it rather than procrastinate which is my usual response to filling in health forms – I’m the guy who didn’t have a preferred GP for five years after my previous one upped and left for the north coast. Medical registration is of course an interesting problem. People are naturally concerned to keep personal matters personal, and the medical profession have at times an exaggerated view of patient confidentiality and data security.

So, the registration process. First of all you need your medicare number (actually you need it twice) and your date of birth. Fair enough.

Then the fun begins. Then they need an address – which one, Medicare has two addresses for me, my street address, and my post office box which is where my bills end up. As the letter had come to the house mail box, the one we don’t use, I guessed it would be the street address. I guessed right.

Then they asked me when I last went to the doctor, how much it cost, how I paid, and who did I see. This is a problem. I’m pretty healthy and hardly ever go to the doctor. This is how I survived for five years without a GP by using either the campus staff and student drop in centre, or a practice with a drop in service.

Most times I wouldn’t have had a clue. This time I did, only because some fool ran into the back of my car a couple of months ago and I had myself checked out for whiplash did I have a recent date. Didn’t know the date, but trawling back through my online banking records I found the record, how much I paid and how I paid. Only problem was that I didn’t see my usual doctor, but his partner, who is a nice Indian lady from London with a seriously polysyllabic surname.

The only way I got that last bit of information was because she’s suggested I should have some routine blood tests, and being the arch procrastinator I am, I still had the referral form as I hadn’t had them done.

Now I am someone skilled in identity and data management. This whole exercise took me about forty five minutes, not least because when I entered the fee last paid it complained that the data was in an invalid format – I’d typed 75 not 75.00 despite the lack of any instructions as to how to complete the field.

I now have an eHealth record. But I do wonder how the less organised and less skilled will manage – the whole system showed a lack of user acceptance testing. Surely it would be better to prepopulate all the records, have a ‘claim your record campaign’ and base identity on what people know, their medicare number, their phone number and perhaps their Driver’s licence number – that way we might actually get some people registered …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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