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Medical records go online

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Patients registered with a doctor’s practice in Geneva have been given unconditional access to their entire medical records through the web.

This content was published on December 20, 2003 - 14:03

The Médicentre in Balexert claims the move is a world first.

The project is a pilot study involving 50 patients, who can access their records spontaneously without having to ask for them or justify themselves.

Research is continuing into the consequences of such a move – in particular how it affects the relationship between patients and doctors.

“Access to one’s medical records is now a right,” said project coordinator, Barbara Engeli-Lanni, of SOS Médecins Geneva. “However, putting this into practice can lead to many difficulties.”

Raw data

For the past six years, the SOS Médecins Geneva, an emergency service, and the Balexert medical centre have converted the raw data of 480,000 consultations into a format compatible for transmission via the net.

Once the records were ready, an external company, Marvel Communications of Gland, developed a website to put them online.

The site was completed in June and the first patients were given access to their records in August.

“The patient is the only real and legal owner of his or her medical records and to date the relation was one based on a subordinate relationship,” said Engeli-Lanni.

“We hope that this new procedure will establish a rapport of equality with the doctor encouraging authentic dialogue and transparency. Patients place themselves at the centre of affairs and will be responsible and interactive.”

Second opinion

The patient’s entire medical records will be on the web. The company says the development transforms the doctor-patient relationship.

At present doctors are in charge of directing the discussion, writing up records and drawing conclusions and interpretations which are often unknown to the patient and which the latter cannot correct.

With their records freely at their disposal, patients can come back at consultation with questions or corrections and are no longer in a “subordinate” position.

In addition, patients can now control the information they hand over to third parties such as public authorities, medical experts or insurance companies.

Confidentiality

Patients, who wish to access their records, choose a code. They can then read their records confidentially just as they would their bank account.

The company says it has carefully considered issues of privacy and data security and that is why it chose Marvel Communications in Gland to set up the website.

“The company was chosen because of its experience of confidentiality on the Internet,” said Engeli-Lanni.

“It was the firm which set up the first Swiss data bank present exclusively on the internet,”

The medical centre expects that everyone will eventually have their medical records at their disposal on a personal internet site though some patients may prefer to rely on the opinion of their doctor in the traditional way.

Research is continuing into the consequences of this new practice – not only how it affects the relationship between patients and doctors but whether it affects the number and course of consultations as well as the financial implications.

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

Key facts

Many hospitals and health systems maintain electronic medical records systems.
Some hospitals already maintain these records on the internet and allow authorised healthcare providers to access records anytime, anywhere.
With this technology comes concerns about privacy.
The Médicentre, Balexert says it has achieved a world first by allowing patients access to their own records.

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