9.1.4. Questions about privacy protections and patient consent¶
The Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 and associated Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) in Schedule 1 of that Act set the overarching requirements for the collection and use of all personal information by organisations and entities involved in the Primary Mental Health Care Minimum Data Set (PMHC MDS). A key feature to the operation of the PMHC MDS is based on obtaining client consent to the collection, use and disclosure of their personal information.
Specific responses to two issues commonly raised are provided below.
Under Australian Privacy Principle (APP) 3, an organisation can collect health information where it is reasonably necessary for its functions or activities, and the individual concerned consents to the collection, or another exception applies.
As commissioners and regional planners, PHNs require a range of data to remunerate service providers as well as monitor overall regional service provision and plan future service improvements. These are all core functions of PHNs and require that PHNs collect and analyse data on what services are delivered, to what clients, at what costs and with what outcomes. Without data, PHNs cannot undertake these functions.
Additionally, most PHNs have set up centralised referral coordination points to which the GP or other referrer forwards client and referral details. This centralised function allows referrals to be processed and services selected to match the client’s needs as well as giving the PHN an efficient method for managing demand.
Client consent is critical to the process. While APP 3 includes provision for health information to be collected without consent under the ‘health management activities exception’, the conditions for this are limited and may not be applicable (see https://www.oaic.gov.au/engage-with-us/consultations/healthprivacy-guidance/business-resource-collecting-using-and-disclosing-health-information-for-healthmanagement-activities). Under the previous ATAPS/MHSRRA programs, PHNs set up appropriate consent processes for clients to agree to information being provided to the PHN. For most PHNs, specific forms are available on their websites for use by referrers or health practitioners, including versions that can be downloaded and integrated into GP clinical software, enabling secure electronic transmission to referral triage teams.
Most forms currently available on PHN websites relate only to the former ATAPS program and do not reflect the wider range of services to be delivered from mental health flexible funding. It is therefore recommended that PHNs review and update as required their consent processes to reflect the wider range of services that they are now responsible for commissioning.
Provision of information to the Department is necessary for government to undertake its role in funding, monitoring and planning future national service delivery.
Supply of PMHC MDS data by PHNs to the Department of Health is governed by APP 6 which regulates how an organisation may use and disclose the health information that it collects. Under APP 6, if an organisation collects health information for a particular or ‘primary purpose’, it generally cannot use or disclose that information for a ‘secondary purpose’ unless an exception applies. A specific exception under APP6 allows personal information to be used or disclosed for a ‘secondary purpose’ where there is client consent.
A new item has been added to PMHC MDS to confirm that client consent for data supply to the Department has been obtained. Any records attached to clients for whom the consent flag is not checked as ‘yes’ will not be passed to the Department.
PHNs should therefore ensure that the consent processes they establish include client consent to the provision of data to the Australian Government Department of Health.
The Department has prepared a set of standard words that can be used, or adapted as necessary, in any locally developed forms. These are available on the resources section of the PMHC MDS website (https://www.pmhc-mds.com/resources/).