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Medical records on the web raise concern about confidentiality

Doctors and health care experts have met in Bern to discuss the implications of computerised medical records.

They say that rapid access to records will avoid duplication of analysis and have obvious advantages in emergency cases but they also wish to address concerns about data protection.

Digitalisation offers numerous opportunities, says conference organiser, Dr Sergio Bellucci, director of the Centre for Technology Assessment.

"One advantage is that a doctor can have very fast access to reports and previous diagnoses so he has a complete history of the patient. There is also a possible reduction in cost, less analysis to do, less radiography, for example."

Patients too can benefit from the networking of information, says Dr Anne Eckhardt, project manager at Basler and Hoffmann Consulting Engineers in Zurich.

"In the future, they will be able to look at their records at home on their own computer and search for explanations of items so patients will be better informed about questions concerning their health."

The biggest concern about computerised records is that the security of data on the internet can never be guaranteed.

"There is a danger that the data could be misused and I cannot imagine that any patient would be happy that anybody can look at their records on the internet," says Belluci.

Another disadvantage says Dr Margrit Leuthold, general secretary of the Swiss Academy of Medical Sciences, is that the relationship between a patient and a doctor is a very personal one and it is usually based on trust.

"It's very much dependent on personal communication and it might be that when everything is digitalised this kind of relationship, which is very important for the healing process, can be diminished."

The proliferation of web sites given to medical advice is also beginning to have an impact on medical treatment and relationships. Dr Leuthold says the information is not always accurate.

"Already nowadays all the doctors I talk to tell me that patients are coming into their offices with huge bundles of information from the internet and some of it is okay and some of it is wrong."

Not only is quality assurance an issue on the Internet, but using the web also throws up a totally new relationship between doctor and patient, says Bellucci.

"Because patients have time to search the web for specific information, they often know more than the doctor and the doctors don't like this."

by Vincent Landon


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