In August 2016, Australia’s federal Department of Health published medical billing records of about 2.9 million Australians online. These records came from the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) containing 1 billion lines of historical health data from the records of around 10 per cent of the population.
These longitudinal records were de-identified, a process intended to prevent a person’s identity from being connected with information, and were made public on the government’s open data website as part of its policy on accessible public data.
Now, we find that patients can be re-identified, using known information about the person to find their record. This was disclosed to the Department in December 2016.