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One small change: A medical researcher on how to make Ireland’s health system better

Siobhán Gaynor: In my opinion, my medical notes belong to me and I should have open and ongoing access to them

As our health system begins to return to normal activity levels following the Covid-19 pandemic, we would like to hear from doctors, nurses, paramedics, medical secretaries, hospital porters, canteen staff and others about one change they would like to see in our health system.

It can be something simple that annoys you, day in, day out, that is easily fixed, or it can be a small change in practice or attitude that would make life easier for everyone.

Siobhán Gaynor

(Retired medical researcher)

“As a patient with a chronic, life-limiting condition (metastatic breast cancer), I have had a lot of experience with health professionals over the years and one thing that strikes me is how difficult it is for patients to get access to their medical records.

“Recently I decided to make a freedom of information request to get copies of my paper-based records which are kept in big brown folders that all hospital patients will be familiar with. It took 12 weeks for them to finally arrive. In a year’s time as my disease progresses I will have to make the same request again and probably wait as long.

“In my opinion, my medical notes belong to me and I should have open and ongoing access to them. This would allow me to engage more with my condition, understand the disease process better and what lifestyle changes would make a difference. It would also mean that I would spend less time asking questions of my doctors.

“I only have 10 minutes with my consultant every three months. I could spend this time better if I understood my tumour type, what has and hasn’t been tested and with access to my notes I could better prepare for my visits with appropriate questions.

“So for me, the one small change that I would like to see in the Irish health system is that patients have direct and simple access to their medical information as a normal part of their healthcare. In Scandinavian countries, patients have direct access to their records online in real time.

“I know the excuse is given that medical records are difficult for lay people to understand. Sometimes doctors think that patients who request their medical records want to sue, but if patient access to their own medical records was standard practice not the exception, this wouldn’t be the case.”

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