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Opinion: Jane Warner

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‘No one will be guaranteed medical privacy in the future’

My blood group is B rhesus positive, my current medication is rizatriptan, and the last time I sought help from my GP was because of a urinary tract infection. I am up to date with my immunisations. I may have a penicillin allergy.
Why have I decided to disclose this personal medical information? The reason is that I am doing my utmost to keep ahead of trends. Judging by recent untoward events, it won’t be long until everyone’s confidential medical records will be lost during electronic transit, fall off the back of an NHS lorry, land in a builder’s skip or perhaps be offered on sale to the tabloid press.
Innovation in nursing is said to be a very good thing, so it clearly makes sense for me to get my medical records into the public eye sharpish.
As nurses, we know that confidentiality is the linchpin of any relationship of trust that we have with our patients. Potential inadequacies in developing and maintaining robust systems of clinical data protection should not make our jobs even harder than they already are.
Information and communication technology (ICT) specialists are keen to point the finger of blame for lapses in confidentiality at healthcare workers. To some extent, they are justified. How often are patient details left in view of people who have no right to see them? Such actions are not mere carelessness – they might be construed as negligent. And how many passwords use the name of a family pet?
To make matters worse, we seem to be asked for any number of passwords to access enough information to manage and document patient care. Because of this, logging on seems to take longer and longer. ICT is no quick fix. Many nurses are discovering that their workload has increased because of the expectation that irrelevant or trivial emails need to be read and responded to, above managing patient care.
Thanks a bunch, NHS Net. Perhaps you would like to pay us for the overtime we are all accruing from all this extra administrative hassle.
So, once the clinical cat has been let out of the medical bag, what’s next? I think we should prepare for a future in which nobody will be guaranteed any right to medical privacy. The public’s disquiet will be hard to allay. Our ethos of working with patients will change, and not
for the better.
Not only might patients fail to disclose potential serious illnesses, they are also highly likely to seek out any practitioner, qualified or otherwise, who can assure them of anonymity and not link them to ‘the system’.
If enough people do this, the main justification for the use of ICT – data collection and analysis for health improvement – will mean IT is less fit for purpose than a cigar cutter made from sponge fingers. In a room full of non-smokers.

Jane Warner is a practice nurse in Devon
NEXT WEEK: Linda Nazarko on using electronic tags for those with dementia

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