Your questions answered
What is an individual healthcare identifier (IHI)?
An IHI is a unique 16-digit number allocated to each Australian resident and others seeking healthcare in Australia.
How do I get my IHI?
If you are enrolled with Medicare or hold a Department of Veterans Affairs treatment card, you will automatically be allocated an IHI. If not, a temporary IHI number will be provided when you next seek healthcare.
When do I use my IHI?
The Healthcare Identifiers (HI) Service is scheduled to commence operations in July 2010. Healthcare providers will start using healthcare identifiers when their patient software systems can interface with the HI Service. Software vendors have indicated that this process may take between 6 and 18 months to complete. Once their software is compliant, healthcare providers will be able to obtain IHIs from Medicare Australia through an online process to update their active patient records. Medicare Australia will only return an IHI where there is an exact match and will not disclose information, other than the number itself, that has not been provided by the healthcare organisation. Or the provider may obtain an IHI through an online service or by phone when the individual next visits the doctor or goes to a hospital or clinic for treatment.
What can IHIs be used for?
As set out in the Healthcare Identifier Act 2010, healthcare identifiers can only be used for health information management and communication as part of:
- providing healthcare to an individual;
- managing healthcare (including investigating or resolving complaints)
- funding, monitoring or evaluating healthcare;
- providing indemnity cover for a healthcare provider;
- conducting research that has been approved by a Human Research Ethics Committee; or
- reducing or preventing a serious threat to public health or safety.
Where information is disclosed for these purposes, the receiving healthcare provider or organisation is authorised to collect a healthcare identifier and use it for the purpose for which it was disclosed.
Healthcare identifiers cannot be used for other purposes such as insurance and employment, unless the use is for the purpose of healthcare delivery to an individual.
For example, it is expected that some private health insurance companies will use identifiers to provide healthcare-related services to their customers, such as chronic disease management programs, but they cannot use them for insurance purposes, such as payment of a claim.
Is this a health record?
A healthcare identifier is not a health record. The information held by the HI Service Operator is limited to demographic information (such as name, date of birth and sex), which is needed to uniquely identify individuals and providers.
Healthcare identifiers are an important building block to enable the personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR) system.
The national PCEHR system will be seperate from the HI Service. The PCEHR will use healthcare identifiers to facilitate the identification of a consumer and healthcare provider. This will provide consumers and their healthcare providers with greater certainty that the individual’s information is being correctly attributed to their electronic record.
Consistent with the National E-Health Strategy, endorsed by all Health Ministers, participation in a PCEHR will be voluntary and an individual’s healthcare identifier will only be used with their PCEHR with their permission.
What information will be held by the Healthcare Identifiers (HI) Service?
Your IHI will be associated with a limited amount of identifying information such as, name, date of birth, and sex. In order for your IHI to be disclosed by the HI Service, a healthcare provider will need to provide sufficient identifying information to uniquely identify the individual. This may include a name, Medicare card number or DVA file number and date of birth. The HI Service will only release your IHI when there is an exact match.
For more information on the HI Service visit the Department of Health and Ageing website.
From July 2012, all Australians can choose to register for a personally controlled electronic health record. Imagine having access to your personal health information whenever you need it. Imagine all your healthcare providers having, with your permission, appropriate access to your health information when and where they require it, to assist you in your healthcare.