In emergency situations, treating healthcare providers can request to access an individual’s My Health Record to support provision of the appropriate treatment quickly.
For example, if the individual is unconscious, a healthcare provider may be granted access to the record if there is a serious threat to the person’s health and safety.
Situations when emergency access can be granted
Under the My Health Records Act 2012 (Section 64), healthcare provider organisations can access information in a My Health Record under certain emergency circumstances. Emergency access can be granted where the healthcare provider believes there is a serious threat to an individual’s life, health or safety and the patient’s consent cannot be obtained.
Emergency access to a My Health Record may also be permitted if the healthcare provider reasonably believes that access to the My Health Record is necessary to lessen or prevent a serious threat to public health or safety. For example, to identify the source of a serious infection and prevent its spread.
When to use emergency access
It is expected that the need to use the emergency access function is rare. This is because:
- In most cases individuals do not have restrictions in place, therefore access to their record is already available, and emergency access is not required.
- Emergency access can only be used if:
- a serious threat applies, as outlined above;
- the specific My Health Record is restricted (because the individual has restricted access to the record or documents within the record); and
- the consumer is not able to provide consent (for example, due to being unconscious).
To find a specific My Health Record, you will need to have the healthcare consumer’s Medicare number, surname, date of birth and gender to search for their record.
Once granted, emergency access to a record is available for a maximum of five days. Once this period ends, the My Health Record reverts to the previous settings. If the emergency continues beyond the initial five day period, you will need to request emergency access from the operator again.
Use of the emergency access function is recorded in the access history of the My Health Record, which can be viewed by the individual and their authorised or nominated representative. In addition, healthcare consumers can choose to be notified each time the emergency access is used to view their My Health Record.
When not to use emergency access
Emergency access does not need to be used if you can already access the individual’s My Health Record using your usual processes.
In addition, there are circumstances where it is unlawful to use the emergency access function. The following examples are situations where using emergency access to view a My Health Record may be considered unlawful:
- The specific My Health Record required has no restrictions set and regardless of the state of consciousness, the record can be accessed via the normal process
- The healthcare consumer has set a code to restrict access to their My Health Record but can’t remember the code
- The healthcare provider is using emergency access to view their own My Health Record or a record of a family member
- A trainer is using their own My Health Record or the record of another employee to demonstrate the use of emergency access.
The My Health Records Act 2012 outlines the circumstances that are considered unlawful and these are subject to civil and criminal penalties. If a healthcare provider accesses an individual’s My Health Record by mistake, they will not be liable for any penalties, provided that there has not been a breach of privacy.
Information that can be accessed using emergency access
With emergency access, any access controls that the individual has set will be overridden. This means you will have full access to their record. However, information that has been entered in the consumer-only notes section of the record, and any documents that the person has previously removed will not be visible, even in an emergency.