Britain toughens patient privacy

NHS Care Rcord Guarantee

The United Kingdom's Health Department published tough new rules to guarantee that patients in England can control access to their electronic health care records in a system under development by the National Health Service.

The NHS National Programme for Information Technology kicked off a 10-year, $10 billion project in late 2003 to develop a nationwide e-health record (EHR) system for 50 million patients and 30,000 doctors in England. It would not cover Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The NHS Care Record Guarantee, published May 23, will allow patients to prevent information in their records from being shared, Health Ministry officials said. But the quality of care could deteriorate if patients block information sharing.

The health record guarantee also states that:

* Patients will be able to obtain a list of everyone who looks at their records.

* NHS will not share information outside the agency, particularly with other government agencies.

* Records will only be shared with health care providers or social service or education organizations with patient permission.

* NHS will take disciplinary action against anyone who accesses health records without permission or a good reason.

The new NHS electronic Care Records Service “has enormous potential benefits for patients," said Lord Warner, UK health minister. The system allows medical staff throughout England to have instant access to patient histories, including allergies, current medications and recent treatment.

Warner said the department developed the new privacy rules to address any patients’ concerns about the confidentiality of their records.

The Care Guarantee clearly establishes the rights of patients to control who has access to their information, Warner said. "These rules will be backed up with tough security measures to prevent unauthorized access to records, ensuring everyone can have confidence in the new system," he said.

In the United States, health records privacy is essential to development of a planned nationwide EHR system, according to a report prepared by a panel of executives of leading U.S. companies and released by the Department of Health and Human Services.

That report said "consumers remain concerned about the possibility of their personal medical details showing up on the Internet" and warned "consumers will not support EHR use if security and privacy is not readily apparent."

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