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Taking care of patient data

There’s no escaping the fact that we live in a data driven, online world. And why shouldn’t we? Properly managed, electronic storage of data can free up substantial amounts of time, leaving us free to concentrate on the more interpersonal and interesting aspects of our jobs and lives.

Just take the electronic filing of records for example. With x-rays, scans, clinical notes and histories all being available in a single patient record at the touch of a button; it’s far easier for health professionals to diagnose and understand the nature of a particular problem and move swiftly towards developing a treatment regime. It’s also far easier for data to be shared between health professionals, enabling complex cases to be managed in a more holistic way.

Add in the benefits of time saved in not having to print out records, manually file them and then post or courier information between health centres and it’s easy to see how health practices and their patients benefit from electronic data storage.

However there is one area of concern with electronic data storage and that is the question of security. Now it has to be said that many of the problems arising from electronic data storage are simply replications of problems that can arise in a paper driven world.   Yes it is possible to email a record to the wrong person but it is equally possible to put a patient record in the wrong envelope or for paper copies to be lost in the post.

And even with errors there are some aspects of data management in which electronic storage comes up trumps. Miss-file a paper record and you can spend hours searching for it, miss-file an electronic record and a reasonable data search facility can help you to retrieve the file relatively quickly.

Naturally our trust in the security of data isn’t helped when we see headlines which would indicate that the health sector is responsible for considerable numbers of security breaches. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) summary of data protection reports and concerns for 2016/17 indicates that the health sector is responsible for 41% of self-reported incidents. To put this in context, next on the list is local government with 11%.

On first indication this would be a concern; however, the report highlights the fact that the health sector’s mandatory reporting policy naturally leads them to report more incidents than other sectors. Looking at the types of data breaches, whilst it is true that 11% relate to data being sent by email to an incorrect recipient, this has to be taken in context with the 15% of reports relating to data being posted or faxed to an incorrect recipient and the 14% of occasions when paperwork was lost or stolen.

It’s often said that security is a state of mind and what the ICO report highlights is the importance of treating patient data (whether in paper or electronic form) with the same level of care as you would give to the patient. When data is being transferred between health practitioners it only takes a few seconds to check and double check that the forwarding email address is correct and that the request comes from a genuine source. Similarly with security being forefront of people’s minds, passwords are less likely to be left lying around on desks or set to the standard default of password or 1234.

Electronic data isn’t simply some laboursaving device. Patient information is real and personal. Being human we’re all going to make mistakes from time to time but being security aware will help to minimise those mistakes and ensure that patient data is treated with the care that your patients deserve.

Contact us today to discover how Clinic Appointments can help your clinic. Book your free demo call now to learn more.