Healthcare Identifiers Service – Frequently Asked Questions

The following documents provide responses to Frequently Asked Questions about the Healthcare Identifiers Service

Page last updated: 23 March 2015

Q1. Why do we need healthcare identifiers?
Q2. What does the Healthcare Identifiers Service mean for Australians?
Q3. Who operates the HI Service?
Q4.Why not use existing Medicare numbers?
Q5. How do I get an IHI?
Q6. Does this mean I need to get a new card or remember another number?
Q7. Do I need an IHI to receive healthcare or claim Medicare benefits?
Q8. How is my personal information protected?
Q9. What type of information is attached to the IHI?
Q10. Can I opt out of having an IHI?
Q11. Can I access the information that the HI Service holds about me or a person under my care?
Q12. How can I be sure about who has accessed my IHI?
Q13. Why does my IHI history on the HI Service web pages show that a healthcare provider has accessed my IHI multiple times, even when I haven’t received healthcare at those times?
Q14. Can I receive healthcare anonymously?
Q15. What do healthcare identifiers mean for providers?
Q16. Who issues HPI-Is and when?
Q17. I received a letter from AHPRA which included my HPI-I. What do I need to do?
Q18. How will I know when AHPRA has provided the HI Service with my HPI-I and I can begin to use this service?
Q19. Who will be eligible for an HPI-I?
Q20. Why do healthcare providers need an HPI-I? Will it always be the same number?
Q21. Which organisations can get an HPI-O?
Q22. How does the introduction of healthcare identifiers affect current IT systems?
Q23. What is the benefit for healthcare providers?
Q24. Is there a cost to business?
Q25. What are the processes for reviewing the HI Service?

Q1. Why do we need healthcare identifiers?

In February 2006 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to a national approach to developing, implementing and operating systems for healthcare identifiers for individuals and healthcare providers as part of accelerating work on a national electronic health records system to improve safety for patients and increase efficiency for healthcare providers. In 2008 COAG reaffirmed this decision and agreed to universally allocate a unique identifying number to each individual healthcare recipient in Australia.

Communication of health information is a vital part of effective healthcare. The accurate identification of individuals is critical in all health communication. Mismatching of patients with their records and results is a documented problem for the health system and a clear link has been established between avoidable harm to patients and poor medical records management.

Using an Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI) provides a way for healthcare providers to more accurately match the right records to the person they are treating and improve accuracy when communicating information with other healthcare providers. This will help to avoid medical mix-ups or one person’s information being recorded on another patient’s file.
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Q2. What does the Healthcare Identifiers Service mean for Australians?

The Healthcare Identifiers (HI) Service is a national system for uniquely identifying healthcare providers and individuals. Healthcare identifiers help ensure individuals and providers have confidence the right information is associated with the right individual at the point of care.

As part of the HI Service, every Australian resident is allocated a unique 16 digit IHI. You don’t need to remember or do anything with your IHI. It has been created to be used by healthcare providers to improve the security and efficient management of your personal health information. Non-residents may apply for an IHI if they are receiving or expect to receive healthcare service in Australia.

The HI Service allocates three types of healthcare identifiers:
  • Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI) – for individuals receiving healthcare services;
  • Healthcare Provider Identifier – Individual (HPI-I) – for healthcare professionals involved in providing patient care; and
  • Healthcare Provider Identifier – Organisation (HPI-O) – for organisations that deliver healthcare (such as hospitals or general practices).
Healthcare identifiers are an important building block for the personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR) system.

The PCEHR system enables people who would like to participate to access their key health information online. Individuals control what is stored on their PCEHR and decide which healthcare providers can view or add to their PCEHR.

The PCEHR uses healthcare identifiers to provide greater certainty that your information is being correctly attributed to your PCEHR.
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Q3. Who operates the HI Service?

The Chief Executive Medicare is the operator of the HI Service. As a trusted government authority, Medicare has the national infrastructure, as well as the industry and community relationships needed to securely deliver and maintain the healthcare identifiers.

The HI Service is a separate Medicare function, not linked to its funding or claims for payment functions.
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Q4.Why not use existing Medicare numbers?

A Medicare number is not unique. Some people have more than one Medicare number because they are members of more than one family and may be on multiple cards. Also, some Australian residents and visitors do not have a Medicare number.
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Q5. How do I get an IHI?

There is nothing an Australian resident needs to do to get an IHI. If a person is enrolled with Medicare or holds a Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) treatment card, they are automatically allocated an IHI.. If you are a non-resident you can apply for an IHI by completing the Healthcare Identifiers Service Application to create, verify or merge an Individual Healthcare Identifier form available from the Department of Human Services website.
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Q6. Does this mean I need to get a new card or remember another number?

No. You don’t need to do anything. When required, your healthcare provider will obtain your IHI from the HI Service using your Medicare or Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) number.
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Q7. Do I need an IHI to receive healthcare or claim Medicare benefits?

No. If a healthcare provider can’t get your IHI from the HI Service, or the IHI is not available for any reason, you will not be refused treatment. You will still need to use your Medicare number to make claims.
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Q8. How is my personal information protected?

The HI Service protects individual privacy through legislation and technical security and access controls.
Only healthcare providers who are identified with an individual healthcare provider identifier – individual (HPI-I), or an authorised employee or contracted service provider, can access the HI Service to obtain the IHI of a patient being treated.

The system design does not allow ‘browsing’ of healthcare identifiers. A request by an authorised healthcare provider for a patient’s IHI will only reveal an IHI when there is an exact match with patient information provided by the healthcare provider. Each time a person’s IHI is accessed, the details of who requested it is recorded.

The Healthcare Identifiers Act 2010 (the HI Act) specifies that healthcare identifiers are to be used for healthcare and related management purposes, with penalties in place for misuse. Healthcare identifiers cannot be used for other purposes including for insurance and employment purposes, unless the use is for the purpose of healthcare delivery to an individual.

For example, private health insurance companies may use healthcare identifiers to provide healthcare-related services to their customers, such as chronic disease management programs.

Penalties for the intentional misuse of healthcare identifiers, such as inappropriate disclosure of information by Medicare or users of the HI Service are also set out in legislation, and current privacy laws apply.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner monitors the operation of the HI Service by the Chief Executive Medicare and handles complaints relating to the HI Service.
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Q9. What type of information is attached to the IHI?

A healthcare identifier is not a health record. The information held by the HI Service Operator is limited to identifying information such as your name, date of birth and sex needed to uniquely identify you. In some circumstances more information may be required to ensure identification such as your birth plurality, birth order or aliases.
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Q10. Can I opt out of having an IHI?

No. Under the HI Act the HI Service Operator automatically assigns an IHI to individuals who are enrolled for Medicare benefits or have a DVA treatment card. The HI Act does not provide for an individual to choose not to be assigned an IHI.

People who are not already registered with Medicare or DVA can be assigned a temporary IHI by the HI Service when the person seeks healthcare. Healthcare identifiers will help ensure individuals and healthcare providers can have confidence that the right information is associated with the right individual at the point of care.
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Q11. Can I access the information that the HI Service holds about me or a person under my care?

Yes. Individuals and their authorised representatives can access the information held by the Chief Executive Medicare as part of the HI Service.

The HI Service uses Medicare’s existing flexible processes which support carers or advocates acting for a person with impaired decision-making abilities. Information on these processes can be obtained by contacting Medicare on 1300 361 457.

Individuals can view their IHI history by registering for Medicare’s Online Services at the Department of Human Services' website or at any Department of Human Services (DHS) Service Centre offering Medicare services. Once registered, they can simply log on to the DHS website and look up their IHI history.
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Q12. How can I be sure about who has accessed my IHI?

You can access your IHI history using Medicare Online Services. To access Medicare Online Services you must have a myGov account and link to Medicare. You can register for a myGov account at create a myGov account. The Medicare Online Services page provides information about the last time you accessed online services, including when you last viewed your IHI history page.

Your IHI history page provides a record of requests made by healthcare providers to the HI Service to disclose your IHI, in keeping with the HI legislation.
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Q13. Why does my IHI history on the HI Service web pages show that a healthcare provider has accessed my IHI multiple times, even when I haven’t received healthcare at those times?

The HI Act specifies that healthcare identifiers can be used for healthcare and related management purposes, with penalties in place for misuse.

Under the HI legislation, the HI Service must keep an up-to-date record of who has requested your healthcare identifier, each time it is accessed. You have a right to access this information.

Your IHI history may show that a healthcare provider’s administrative system has accessed your IHI a number of times depending on the way the system software is developed to retrieve your healthcare identifier. In addition, provider systems may also access your IHI for management purposes, such as testing or maintenance activities to monitor or improve the quality and effectiveness of the way their system interacts with the HI Service.

If you have a query about your IHI history, you can contact the HI Service on 1300 361 457.

If you have a query about privacy matters, you can contact the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner on 1300 363 992.
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Q14. Can I receive healthcare anonymously?

Healthcare identifiers do not change the way that anonymous healthcare services are provided. Individuals can still seek treatment and services on an anonymous basis. In these instances an IHI would not be used by the healthcare provider.

In certain circumstances a person may want to access healthcare services using a pseudonym. The HI Service allows for a person to have an IHI allocated to a name other than their legal identity.

This process is separate from Medicare claiming processes and requirements for making a claim under Medicare remain unchanged. A Medicare claim can only be made using the name on your Medicare card.
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Q15. What do healthcare identifiers mean for providers?

A healthcare provider identifier is a number that is assigned to eligible healthcare providers and organisations to support their unique identification. These are referred to as:
  • Healthcare Provider Identifier – Individual (HPI-I) for healthcare professionals involved in providing patient care; and

  • Healthcare Provider Identifier – Organisation (HPI-O) for organisations that deliver healthcare (such as hospitals or general practices).
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Q16. Who issues HPI-Is and when?

The HI Service Operator allocates and maintains healthcare identifiers.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) issues HPI-Is to its registrants.

Health professionals not covered by AHPRA can register for an HPI-I directly with the HI Service.
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Q17. I received a letter from AHPRA which included my HPI-I. What do I need to do?

You don't need to do anything; AHPRA has issued you with your HPI-I as the first step toward you using healthcare identifiers as part of electronically communicating health information.

For more information about the HI Service please go to the Department of Human Services' website.
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Q18. How will I know when AHPRA has provided the HI Service with my HPI-I and I can begin to use this service?


If you have received your HPI-I from AHPRA you can begin using it straight away. You can contact the HI Service on 1300 361 457 to find out about using the HPI-I.
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Q19. Who will be eligible for an HPI-I?

Healthcare providers, including those in primary care and allied health, may be issued with an HPI-I. To be eligible for an HPI-I, a healthcare provider must provide a ‘health service’ as defined in the HI Act.
There are two classes of healthcare providers who will be eligible for an HPI-I:
  • healthcare providers registered under an Australian law which relates to the registration of a particular healthcare profession; or
  • healthcare providers who are members of a professional association that meets certain criteria.
Healthcare providers who are not registered under a state, territory or national law can obtain their HPI-I by applying directly to the HI Service.
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Q20. Why do healthcare providers need an HPI-I? Will it always be the same number?

When information is sent to other healthcare providers to support a patient’s ongoing healthcare, the HPI-I, in combination with secure authentication mechanisms, will provide greater certainty about who the information is from.

A provider’s HPI-I is unique. A provider will only need one HPI-I regardless of the number of qualifications attained or healthcare organisations worked for.
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Q21. Which organisations can get an HPI-O?

All organisations that provide healthcare services and employ one or more healthcare providers can apply for an HPI-O from the HI Service.

An organisation must provide evidence to the HI Service to demonstrate it is a healthcare provider organisation. Sole traders who provide health services can also be assigned an HPI-O.
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Q22. How does the introduction of healthcare identifiers affect current IT systems?

The HPI-I provides an accurate and secure foundation for sending and receiving messages and information to and from other providers electronically.

In order to participate in the HI Service, a healthcare provider business requires IT systems that incorporate minimum standards and security features necessary to access the HI Service. Healthcare providers are able to access the HI Service via Medicare’s Health Professional Online Service (HPOS) and Business to Business (B2B) web interface. This access enables healthcare providers to, for example, manage and update information associated with their healthcare identifiers.

The HI Service Operator also provides some services over the phone.

Software developed to access the HI Service is assessed to ensure it meets appropriate standards of quality and safety. By purchasing conformant software, healthcare providers ensure their systems use healthcare identifiers in a manner that supports clinical safety, privacy and information security.
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Q23. What is the benefit for healthcare providers?

The costs associated with inadequate patient identification are significant. Studies have shown that up to 10 per cent of general hospital admissions are due to adverse drug events and that up to 20 per cent of medication errors can be attributed to inadequate patient information.

The use of healthcare identifiers contributes to immediate improvements in existing methods of communication between healthcare providers and helps prepare providers to participate in future eHealth developments.

An additional benefit of the HI Service is the availability of a Healthcare Provider Directory. The Healthcare Provider Directory allows healthcare providers to locate other providers in a timely manner, and facilitates communication with other providers when referring patients or making decisions about the patient’s care needs.
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Q24. Is there a cost to business?

Healthcare providers bear some start-up costs associated with staff time required for considering information supplied to them about how healthcare identifiers should be implemented and for responding to patient enquires on how healthcare identifiers can and cannot be used.

Healthcare providers can be provided with appropriate resources to refer consumers to for more information.
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Q25. What are the processes for reviewing the HI Service?


The HI Service Operator reports on its activities, finances and operations at the end of each financial year and provides the report to the Ministerial Council and the Minister for Health. The report is tabled in Parliament. These reports are available on the Department of Human Services' website.

In accordance with the HI Act, a review of the HI Service was undertaken in 2012. The report of this review was provided to the Ministerial Council and the Minister for Health, and was tabled in Parliament.

The Government is preparing its response to this report. Work on responding to this review was delayed as a result of the review of the PCEHR system.
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