Ethnic community group backs Australia's My Health Record


Australia’s My Health Record has come under considerable criticism during a launch period that has been marred by a row over privacy – but a group representing ethnic communities has backed the scheme as it could aid communication with patients who don’t speak English very well.

Australians have until Thursday to opt out of the scheme that will automatically create a digital health record for them, after the government extended the deadline to do so.

This followed an outcry over concerns about privacy and trouble getting through to a telephone opt-out helpline.

But Mohammad Al-Khafaji, acting chief executive officer of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) said the record could improve communication between healthcare professionals and people with low levels of English proficiency, leading to better health outcomes.

Al-Khafaji told the SBS News website that the site could help overcome barriers to healthcare among culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

He said: “My Health Record is a tool that no doubt will be a potential lifesaver for many CALD Australians, especially those with limited support and limited English.”

Around 21% of Australians speak a language other than English at home, according to figures from the 2016 census.

Barriers faced by people from CALD communities include lack of awareness of available translation services, lack of information in community languages, and actual or perceived racism among medical practitioners.

Having a record digitally accessible in one place without need for extensive verbal communication will lead to better-informed treatment decisions, particularly for carers, older people and those with lower levels of English proficiency, according to Mr Al-Khafaji.

The Australian Digital Health Agency, which is implementing My Health Record, has partnered with FECCA to communicate with CALD communities across Australia, including through in-language resources.

The agency has also worked with the Settlement Council of Australia to communicate information about the scheme to recently arrived migrants and refugees.

After Thursday, an estimated 17 million Australians will have their record automatically created, from a population of around 24.6 million.