Cough, cough, click: online medical files

Personal medical records - including prescription history, laboratory results and personal details - will soon be made available online to patients and their health care professionals.

The online information exchange has already begun in Wellington, Christchurch and the North Island as far north as Hamilton. Auckland is next to be included.

The Government has praised the move as a huge step forward to patient safety and convenience but critics are concerned information will be shared online without their explicit consent, as patients' information is automatically included unless they refuse. Privacy breaches have occurred in the past, such as last week when a Wellington nurse was found to have accessed personal and medical records of her ex-husband's new partner as well as that of her family.

A member of the public, who contacted the Weekend Herald but asked not to be named, said the Office of the Privacy Commissioner had told him it understood that anyone with access to the username and password of a health care member could access unlimited numbers of patients' medical records.

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said he was satisfied with the process, but noted that health consumers should also take steps to educate themselves about risks and benefits of sharing their information.

Health Minister Tony Ryall said the system had huge benefits for the public, and would make processes in the health care sector much more efficient. "The benefits really are for the patients and for the quality of the care. Patients don't have to tell their story to everyone, and it's safer because their medicines are known to the clinicians. There's huge benefits in terms of quality and safety and also convenience."

Under the Wellington shared care record, medical records for thousands of Wellington residents have already been added to the National Health IT Board's online repository.

The Ministry of Health said the process had been through stringent security checks and through the privacy commissioner before its implementation, and the process was as secure as possible.

- By Holly Ryan of the New Zealand Herald

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