Fears for patient confidentiality as calls for information grow


DOCTORS are concerned about patient confidentiality because of increasing demands from the authorities for information.

As GP practices become more computerised, this concern will grow, Dr Michael Coughlan, chairman of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) told the association's annual conference.

He said the ICGP would draw up guidelines on how to protect confidential information on patients.

The establishment of a national disease surveillance centre made this more important, he said. The Department of Health has made contact with the ICGP to inform it of future demands and the establishment of direct computer links between surgeries and the centre.

"GPs will be required to feed information on a regular basis, so we must be careful that we protect patient confidentiality."

He said notifying a patient who had a particular disease in a small rural area was a particular concern.

"In some areas anonymity is very important. Later, the figures could be reported in the media and people in the area would see that there would be a particular case of something in that particular area. Or the patient could recognise it as themselves. We must be wise with whatever structures we set up".

The Department of Health's policy document "Shaping a Healthier Future" stated that 80 per cent of family doctors' practices should be computerised by 1998.

A motion at the conference said the ICGP should address the matter of the request from local and central government officials for confidential medical information.