Hospital IDs focus of privacy debate

TrakHealth defends a public health patient-tracking system it recently developed for Brazil

With the renewed focus on privacy in both New Zealand and Australia, Melbourne-based health software company TrakHealth has had to defend the approach it took to a public health patient-tracking system it recently developed for Brazil.

The system will provide every Brazilian with an identifying number and plastic card similar to the health and social services card scheme mooted by the recently ousted John Howard government in Australia. This has been canned by the new Rudd Labor government, because of fears it could surreptitiously be developed into a broad national ID system.

Locally, the Law Commission recently issued a report opening debate on the need for changes to the Privacy Act sparked by technology changes.

But Brazil has other concerns. “In Brazil, emphasis is on the efficiency of care, not on fears about privacy,” says Kerry Stretton, managing director of healthcare for TrakHealth owner InterSystems (Computerworld, February 25).

And Denis Tebbut, managing director for Intersystems’ international arm, in Sydney, says he knows personally of at least one case in Australia where vital information was passed between doctors in technical contravention of the privacy regulations. It was in regard to the medical records of a patient who turned up at accident and emergency.

“Which would you rather have: respect for your privacy or survival?”

The Brazilian implementation has already resulted in better tracking of hospital bed availability, says Intersystems. For instance, it allowed for drill-down to one specific underlying cause of slow bed availability — in this case, two broken washing machines in a hospital were slowing up the circulation of clean bed-linen.

The Brazilian system is expected to be extended to all the country’s public hospitals within three years.

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Tags privacyTrakhealth

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