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Nederlands Dagblad, 26 Oct 2012: "Electronic patient record: new system, same concerns"

A new variant of the electronic health record (EHR) should make a patient's life easier by sharing medical information. Yet the same criticisms are heard about data protection and privacy.

Will the electronic patient record finally work? Patients will be able to have their medical data exchanged between different healthcare providers - GPs, pharmacists, medical specialists in hospitals - from next year.

Can, not must. The patient is not obliged to anything, sharing is done only after specific consent. It is the biggest difference from all previous attempts to bring the electronic patient record (EHR) to life. The main advantage of electronic sharing is that GPs, specialists and pharmacists can see at any time what medicines a patient is taking and what has been prescribed. In part, this already happens, as hospitals across the country can request data from pharmacists on what medicines a person has taken. Work has been going on for 15 years to put together an even better system. Els Borst already argued for it as health minister; The Hague's latest attempt fell through in the Senate last year.


At the time, the main criticism was that patients' privacy was not sufficiently guaranteed. Also, medical data stored on the internet would not be secure enough. And everyone had to participate unless people expressly refused. That a patient now has to consent first is a good improvement compared to the previous proposals, believes lawyer Vincent Böhre of civil rights organisation Privacy First. 'Fine that such a choice is left to the citizen.' Yet he still retains his doubts about the protection of privacy and security of patient data. 'The same objections we had to the minister's proposal at the time also apply here. We have no idea how this new project handles patient data. We are not clear about the risks of data leaks. Nor do we know whether data security is properly guaranteed.' As an example, the lawyer cites the data leak at the beginning of this month at the Groene-Hartziekenhuis in Gouda. Then, a hacker from outside the hospital was able to reach almost half a million confidential patient data stored on a computer without much effort. Not everyone is allowed to look into patient data just like that and at random, says a spokesperson for the Association of Healthcare Communication Providers, the umbrella organisation behind the new system. A healthcare provider can only access the system with a special pass and a login code. This is also reported, according to the spokesperson. And some information can only be accessed by a specific healthcare provider. For example, a pharmacist cannot look into a GP's record, but can see what other pharmacies have prescribed medication. 'It is not a big repository of medical information.'


Hospitals are not obliged to participate, but a certain level of coverage is desirable, says the spokesperson. At the moment, far from all hospitals can exchange information, even if patients would like to. How many patients are actually willing to exchange their data creates another risk as to whether the electronic patient record will succeed this time. Böhre: 'In the Czech Republic, there is a lot of unrest about electronic sharing of patient data. A few years ago, a system was also tried there where citizens first had to give their consent. There was not enough support for that then, and the project was stopped. That could happen here too.'"

Source: Nederlands Dagblad 26 October 2012, Interior section. Also published in the Leeuwarder Courant, 26 October 2012, p. 2.