BY Bob Brewin
Published on Dec. 20, 2006
Sharing medical information in electronic health records in England will require explicit patient consent, the United Kingdom Department of Health (DOH) said earlier this week.
The decision followed the release of a task force report on the National Health Service Summary Care Record. The record includes individual patient EHRs that sit at the core of a 10-year, $10 billion NHS project to serve 50 million patients in Britain with a system that connects 30,000 health care professionals.
The DOH said it plans to have general practitioners upload patient information contained in the Summary Care Record to the NHS HealthSpace portal. Patients will then be able to correct or amend their records and offer explicit consent for their records to be shared or opt out of sharing.
“After a realistic period, it would be assumed that those patients who have chosen not to view their summary care record are giving implied consent for it to be shared in appropriate settings,” according to DOH.
The Guardian reported that Lord Warner, the U.K.’s health minister, provided an ironclad guarantee at a press briefing this Monday that patient information would not be uploaded or shared without specific consent. If patients “don’t want their information uploaded, they can stop it before it is uploaded,” he said.
The Summary Care Record Task Force, which included representatives from DOH, the British Medical Association (BMA), emergency medical services, and hospitals and universities, said it considered patient consent on the use of electronic records the key issue of its work.
Dossia, the electronic health record project launched early this month by major American employers Applied Materials, BP America Intel Corporation, Pitney Bowes and Wal-Mart, will allow patients to opt in to the system and then decide what information to share and with whom.
James Johnson, chairman of the BMA, said the task force’s report was the first of its kind to look at the ethical and practical implications of sharing electronic summary care records and should help address patients’ anxieties about the use of their records.
While patients can bar sharing of their medical information, Sigurd Reinton, chairman of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, urged them to consider the consequences of their actions.
“In thinking about their options, I hope people, especially the elderly and vulnerable, will bear in mind that if we have your information, then paramedics, for example, will be able to offer the best possible treatment,” Reinton said. “It is the elderly and the vulnerable who may miss out if they have to formally opt in.”
Members of the Summary Care Record Task Force consulted with officials of the Veterans Health Administration in the U.S. to learn how the agency handles patient consent in its Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) system. The task force said it decided not even to consider the compulsory model of VistA electronic records in the U.K.
DOH said with its acceptance of the recommendations of task force, it now plans to move forward with the rollout of Summary Care Records next February to early-adopter general practitioners.