Patients’ attitudes to the summary care record: Security concerns must be put in context

 

From the British Medical Journal:

Patients’ attitudes to the summary care record: Security concerns must be put in context
J.E.F. Fitzgerald, A. Nikkar-Esfahani, A.A.B. Jamjoom, K.K. Shah, A.G. Acheson (16 June 2008)

[…]

Human links in the patient record chain are far more vulnerable to error, and we have been alarmed at the ease with which we have obtained confidential patient details by telephone.

Faced with incomplete demographic details in an audit, we attempted to complete gaps in addresses, contact numbers and current treatments by telephoning patients’ own GP surgeries. We contacted 45 different GP receptions for information regarding 51 patients, successfully obtaining patient addresses and/or telephone numbers in 50 of these cases. In over a third of phone conversations no information or verification was requested in order to obtain this information. In the one unsuccessful case the receptionist had asked for verification of our identity, which we were unable to provide over the telephone.

Professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge, Ross Anderson comments on the above on Light Blue Touchpaper:

[…]

This is an old problem. In 1996, when I was advising the BMA on clinical system safety and privacy, we trained the staff at one health authority to detect false-pretext phone calls, and they found 30 a week. We reported this to the Department of Health, hoping they’d introduce some operational security measures nationwide; instead the Department got furious at us for treading on their turf and ordered the HA to stop cooperating (the story’s told in my book). More recently I confronted the NHS chief executive, David Nicholson, and patient tsar Harry Cayton, with the issue at a conference early last year; they claimed there wasn’t a problem nowadays now that people have all these computers.

What will it take to get the Department of Health to care about patient privacy?

About the author: Dissent

Comments are closed.