The Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2021 (Vic) (Bill) was introduced on 5 October 2021 to amend the Health Services Act 1988 (Vic) (Act), establishing a centralised electronic system to assist public hospitals and other health services to share specified patient health information.

Russell Kennedy Principal, Michael Gorton AM, chaired the government Legislation Reform Advisory Group, providing expert advice on this legislative reform

The Bill is intended to address the challenges associated with a fragmented patient health information system, which is currently spread across different health services, in different databases and in paper-records. Through a state-wide collation of patient health information, this Bill seeks to create a more efficient, safer and more secure method of sharing health information between public health services to ensure a holistic understanding of a patient’s medical history.

This is in line with the systems and processes that already exist in other states.

The Bill will commence on 17 February 2023. The delayed commencement is to provide time for the Department of Health (Department) to design, construct and commission the electronic information management solution required to give practical effect to the information sharing arrangements.

Which participating healthcare services are impacted?

The Bill applies to the following participating health care services:

  • Public hospitals;
  • Public health services;
  • Denominational hospitals;
  • Metropolitan hospitals;
  • Registered community health centres;
  • Ambulance services;
  • Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health; and
  • Certain residential care services.

Implementation will occur in phases, with public hospitals and health services likely to form the first phase.

What is changing?

The Bill will amend the Act to permit the Secretary to establish and maintain the Electronic Patient Health Information Sharing System (System) for the purposes of collecting any specified patient health information required to be given to the Secretary and disclosing that information to participating health services for the purpose of providing medical treatment to a person.

The Secretary can specify the health information required by notice published in the Government Gazette. The scope of information to be specified will include medicines prescribed to the patient, allergies, alerts, admissions, discharge summaries, outpatient consults and laboratory and imaging results.

To deal with the confidential and sensitive nature of health information and the importance of ensuring appropriate security measures are in place, the Bill introduces two new criminal offences to specifically deal with unauthorised access to the System and access to the System for unauthorised purposes. This ensures only people engaged or employed by a participating health service, who are authorised by that health service, will be able to access the System for the purpose of supporting the provision of medical treatment to a patient and providing the Secretary with the information required. These criminal offences will attract a fine of 240 penalty units or a maximum term of imprisonment of two years.

What does this mean for you?

Participating health services will not be required to obtain consent of the patient for the collection, use and disclosure of the patient’s health information, in line with the current permissions in Victorian privacy laws that enable sharing health information for care delivery.

This means participating health services will be able to have timely access to relevant patient information so long as the access and purpose of the access is authorised by the Act.

The current requirements set out in the Health Records Act 2001 (Vic) regarding patient rights to access their health information and correct it will remain unchanged. This is important, because patients are unable to opt-out of the information sharing requirements set out in the Bill.

Why is it changing?

In Victoria, a patient’s medical history can be held across various health services. This means that it can be difficult to obtain these records, which can be extremely risky in urgent situations where the patient is unable to provide this information. The lack of information can compromise the delivery of safe, timely and high-quality care when it’s needed most. Establishing a consolidated health information sharing platform will promote efficiency in the health care system, improve patient safety, decrease avoidable harm and deliver person-centred care.