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The digitisation of patient data: pros and cons

Yesterday, we spoke about whether or not the digitisation of patient data has the potential to be life-saving. Join us today as we’ll be discussing the pros and cons

Posted: 20 January 2016

If you missed yesterday’s instalment of our weekly feature, click here or continue reading below about the pros and cons of the digitisation and sharing of patient data.

Retired practice manager and former deputy FPC administrator Robert Campbell – a member of GP practice manager support organisation Practice Index – is more reticent. He says: “The goal of having a central NHS record system in itself is laudable, but the ownership of records starts to become cloudy when data is scattered throughout the NHS on remote servers that may well be owned by an independent GP software supplier. Paper records were always said to be owned by the Secretary of State. Now ‘ownership’ is legally debatable and perhaps that casts doubt on the right to access those records too. Making records more widely accessible may give access to those who want to abuse or misuse the data.”

The risks associated with wider access are also a concern for Dr Richard Marques of Wimpole Street Dental and Aspire/Advance, who says: “My overall belief is that making data more accessible for patients is a good thing. However, with increased circulation of data there are always increased risks of data leakage so security should be paramount.”

However, Ali Parsa, founder & CEO of babylon – the digital healthcare company behind the ‘doctor in your pocket’ app – says anything that is digitised “can leak or be stolen, and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t understand the technology.”

He says the real issue people have to consider is “what they gain in return for the digitisation of their data, and how the security of it actually compares with previous systems. For example, if I wanted to steal your patient data all I have to do is take the computer from your GP’s reception. And think back to the days when it was just paper files.”

Parsa also says people need to think about why data is digitised – and exactly what would happen if it wasn’t: “Just look at how many people are prescribed the wrong drugs, or don’t know what blood type they are when that information is needed in an emergency. This kind of data is vital, and the advantages of being able to access it are mindboggling compared to the disadvantages.”

Tune in tomorrow as we'll be talking about privacy and security risks.