Privacy Minefield Opens Up As Prescription Records Put On Database – 13 November 1997

The Australian Doctors’ Fund has described a move by the Pharmacy Guild of Australia to electronically database all prescription records as opening up a privacy minefield.

Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund, Mr Stephen Milgate said “that the involvement of the Guild Commercial Limited, a 100% owned subsidiary of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia needed a lot more clarification as to the commercial uses of the system proposed”.

Already the Guild has acknowledged that “other partners in the project include a major bank, a telecommunications provider and pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers” – Media Release Wednesday 12 November 1997 entitled ‘National Pharmacy Intranet Demonstration Project’.

The initial plan is to establish Internet facilities to all pharmacies and the Federal Government to allow for the electronic transfer of information which is now transferred physically. It is not known what, if any anti-hacking provisions will be in place.

Mr Milgate said “the privacy dangers arise out of the use of databases for commercial gain and NOT the patient’s interests as well as unauthorised access to sensitive pharmaceutical information”.

“One disturbing aspect of this system is the demand by its inventors that group participants sign confidentiality agreements. This is a further indication of the commercial nature of the system. It appears to be driven by potential profits whilst ostensibly being justified as being in the public interest”, Mr Milgate said.

The privacy protection provisions that cover Federal Government database collections do not apply to the private sector.

The Australian Doctors’ Fund has been told that once the system is established the owners can sell access to commercial users. The Guild has denied that identified pharmaceutical information will be made available to commercial users.