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The digitisation of patient data

The digitisation and sharing of patient data between primary care sectors has the potential to be life-saving, yet it’s still scaring some people to death. Saša Jankovic finds out what can be done to reassure them

Posted: 18 January 2016

Patients get the best and safest care when NHS and social care staff can share information about them, and giving access to information about their diagnoses and treatments is an important step in empowering them to take a greater role in managing their own healthcare.

That’s why from 1 October 2015 there is a legal requirement for health and adult social care organisations to do just that, and why the government has announced plans to allow all patients to access their own electronic GP records online in full by 2016, seeing not just a summary of their allergies and medication, but blood test results, appointment records and medical histories.

By 2018 this record will be expanded to include information from all their health and care interactions, but just what are the risks of further digitising patient data and making it more accessible?

Human error

Earlier this year the 56 Dean Street clinic in London accidentally revealed the HIV status of 780 of its patients when it sent out a newsletter without hiding the full names and email addresses of those on its recipient list.

However, as Andy Charlesworth, IT services manager at independent community pharmacy support organisation Numark, points out: “Of course, the case was extremely unfortunate for those involved, but it was a mistake at the end of the day; human error, not a technological one.”

The clinic – run by the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust – apologised and pledged to investigate the breach, while Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Care Quality Commission (CQC) would conduct a thorough and independent review of the effectiveness of existing data security measures in the NHS and recommend changes to reduce the risk of staff inadvertently disclosing sensitive information, and of cyber-attacks.

The National Data Guardian for Health and Care, Dame Fiona Caldicott, will contribute by developing clear guidelines for the protection of personal data against which every NHS and care organisation will be held to account, and advice on the wording for a new model of consents and opt-outs to enable patients to make an informed decision about how their data will be shared.

The work is set to be completed in January with recommendations on how the new guidelines can be assured through CQC inspections and NHS England commissioning processes, and from next year all NHS and care organisations will be inspected on how well they protect personal data.

Join us tomorrow as we'll be discussing the importance of data sharing