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GP group: wake up to privacy risks

GP group encourages patients to wake up to privacy risks

Don’t rely on the health system to protect your privacy – get proactive and protect yourself.

That’s the advice from Pegasus Health Managing Director, Dr Paul McCormack, following news that a number of Auckland District Health Board employees have been disciplined for alleged breaches of patient privacy.

“It’s inexcusable that anybody – celebrity or not – would have their confidential health records accessed for any reason other than the provision of care,” says Dr McCormack. “However, we have reached a point in the New Zealand health system where the value of privacy is being eroding all the time.

“In this case, the blame is being laid at the door of the employees. While their actions were certainly inexcusable, the reality is they are working in a system where flagrant privacy breaches are happening all the time in the name of routine information gathering. The health system assumes that people do not care that their individual personal and clinical information is made available to PHOs, government bureaucrats and others.”

Dr McCormack cites an incident last year where the Ministry of Health commissioned software changes that would have enabled the extraction of confidential patient information from the computers of GPs – without the knowledge of either the patients or their doctors.

“At no point were patients or GPs given the option to opt-out.”

Dr McCormack says that while the GP/patient relationship remains watertight, patients should always feel able to talk with their doctor about where sensitive information might end up if it has to leave the consulting room.

“Of course we want our hospital medical and nursing colleagues having access to relevant clinical information if they are caring for our patients. But there is a balance between holding information close and not ending up getting the care you need, and just letting everything go without question. We are too far towards the latter end of that scale at this time. Not enough people examine and question information releases on ACC, insurance, PHO enrolment and hospital admission forms.”

Other tips for those concerned about privacy include:

o Being aware that health information is easily moved around nowadays, and could end up on the desk of people you never intended to see it

o Talking about privacy with your GP to ensure he or she knows that specific details are particularly sensitive to you, and that you understand why certain pieces of information might need to be released

o Reading ACC, insurance, PHO and other information-release forms thoroughly to ensure you fully understand what is being released and who will get to see it

o Be comfortable crossing out certain areas on an information release form if you do not agree to give permission for information sharing

o Asking for a record of who has viewed your hospital records since your admission

“It’s vitally important that people do trust that their health information is secure with their GPs,” says Dr McCormack. “If they’re not comfortable, people won’t tell their doctor the whole story – and that could put their health at risk.”

Dr McCormack recommends that people become more aware and proactive to assure themselves that they have taken appropriate steps to protect their privacy.


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