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Wednesday, 18 July 2018 12:11

Grand health data project likely to end in tears

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It's early days to be sure, but the Federal Government's latest showpiece, the My Health Record system, is already beginning to look like it will end up as another cluster***k.

From the overblown statements by the Health Minister Greg Hunt — “it’s arguably the world’s leading and most secure medical information system at any national level" — to the inflating of the number of users, it has all the hallmarks of an IT project that is set to end in tears.

After listening to the former head of the digital transformation agency, Paul Shetler — a man who certainly knows what he is talking about when it comes to IT projects of this kind — one would be well advised to opt out and wait for the inevitable crash.

The government has endured a number of embarrassing IT failures when it comes to big projects. Nobody will forget the census bungle of August 2016. Close on its heels has come the great big data experiment by Centrelink which has resulted in more false positives than not. And one must not forget the constant tech issues that disrupt the famous my.gov and tax office sites.

A major mistake that has been made with the MHR system is not to make the settings for users secure by default. That is the model followed by all UNIX-based operating systems – deny everything and allow services as needed.

But the Digital Health Agency has gone, instead, with the Microsoft model, where the user is given every possible permission and expected to shut doors himself/herself. This is a recipe for disaster.

Every Tom, Dick and Harry seem to have permission to access users' data. Even the RSPCA — an organisation that is concerned with animals — has access to My Health Record data.

One of Shetler's quotes stuck with me: "Also, the fact that your data can be accessed for reasons of public revenue, you know, things which have nothing to do with your health." Looks like the Coalition Government wants to do a Google – make money off people's personal data.

The Digital Health Agency could well have avoided blowing up nearly $2 billion by learning from other countries' mistakes. As Shetler pointed out, there was a clear case from which to learn – the UK's care.data project.

But brighter minds seem to have prevailed in Australia and we may well be about to see a repeat of that disaster.

It has been said that if George W. Bush had walked down the road to the nearest public library in 2001 and read up on the history of Afghanistan, then he would well have avoided one of the worst conflicts in which the US has gotten involved.

But people generally do not learn from history and Australia's politicians are mostly from that class. They firmly believe that if you do the same thing over and over again, you will get different results.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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