The first thing Esther Montgomery remembers about being taken to hospital is the feeling of panic.
She was in Sydney, visiting her sister Michelle, when she suddenly felt dizzy. Esther has a history of blood pressure issues and knew she needed to go to the hospital immediately.
When she arrived at the emergency department of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, her panic only grew.
Esther was a long way from home. She’s a Mardudhunera woman from the Pilbara, deep in the heart of Western Australia. She currently lives in Southern Cross, a rural town of just 680 people, five hours drive out of Perth and smack bang in the middle of Noongar country.
“You panic because all these things go through your head,” she says. “Who will know I’m here? What’s going to happen? How long am I going to be here?
“And then on top of it, the doctors were asking me what medications I was on. I couldn’t remember. They were trying to get all the information they needed and I was panicking because I could see that they were panicking. I couldn’t accurately provide them with the tablets I was taking.”
Instead, doctors had to immediately ring the Debarl Yerrigan Health Service in Western Australia to reach Esther’s doctor. Because of the time difference, her doctor hadn’t arrived at work yet.
Esther says if My Health Record had existed then, it would have been much easier for her doctors to fin the details of her medications. “It would have made a lot of difference,” she says
Easier to manage
Esther has long had an interest in health as an Aboriginal LGBTI advocate and activist. She currently sits on the reference group for the Western Australian LGBTI Health Strategy and spent years focusing on health outcomes for LGBTI people, including a recent focus on the homeless. It’s a lot of work.
But it’s her personal experiences with chronic illness and brushes with the Australian health system that have made her a supporter of My Health Record. Beyond her blood-pressure issues, Esther has high cholesterol, diabetes, diabetic eye disease and stage 2 chronic kidney disease. Right now, she’s also undergoing tests to rule out cancer.
While she has a fantastic local doctor at the Debarl Yerrigan Health Service, her illnesses require a lot of management, especially when she’s travelling outside of WA. Each day she takes four or five pills in the morning and another four in the afternoon.
“I live in a rural and remote area. It’s not like you can just jump up, get in your car and go down the freeway 20 minutes and you’re there at your health service, talking to your doctor. So it’s really important to have a My Health Record,” Esther says.
Deciding for yourself
While it’s particularly important for those who live regionally or have a chronic illness like herself, Esther believes My Health Record will be helpful to all Australians. She understand why people are questioning privacy controls – and believes they should – but she wants people to look beyond the headlines. She believes it’s a decision every Australian needs to make for themselves.
“We’re talking about professional men and women in hospitals. They’re not out to get you, they’re there to help you,” Esther says. “At the end of the day it’s about you, the individual person. You need to do your own homework and think about what’s best for you.
“There’s no point listening to your neighbour or your best mate. If you’re rushed by ambulance, irrespective of where you might be, those doctors need to know about your medical history.
“It could save your life.”