UK: Doctors 'risking email privacy breaches'

This one really strikes close to home. Caroline Parkinson reports:

As the email whizzes off into the ether, dread strikes. It’s gone to the wrong person.

Normally, the worst that can happen is a little embarrassment.

But a medical advice body is warning that while trying to use modern technology to contact patients, doctors are sometimes revealing confidential information.

The Medical Defence Union, which counts more than 50% of UK hospital doctors and GPs as members, says it is being contacted by medics worried about how to put right such data breaches.

In one case a practice sent patients an email reminder for a flu vaccination clinic, but mistakenly pasted the email addresses into the “To” rather than the “Bcc” – blind copies – box.

A patient complained that a friend, who had also received the email, had asked her why she was on the list.

She was being offered the jab because she had cancer – but she had not wanted her friend to know.

Read more on BBC.

I’ll admit it – I occasionally have nightmares about making an email error. It has happened to me exactly once in the last 10 or more years: somehow an uninvolved party became cc: on an email to a patient. When I realized my error, I did two things: contacted the erroneous recipient and asked them to securely delete the email from their system, and then ‘fessed up to the patient, who might or might not have even noticed my error. Thankfully, there was nothing sensitive in the email in terms of content, and I was probably more upset over the breach than my patient was, but it’s definitely not the type of thing I’d ever want to have happen again.

So am I even more careful now when I click “reply” or “reply all?” You betcha.  And I continue to encourage my patients NOT to use e-mail but to pick up the phone and call me.

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