Confidentiality of Medical Records: The Patient's Perspective
British Journal of General Practice. 1995 Sep; 45(398): 485-488.
BACKGROUND. The development of modern information technology and the increasing amount of multidisciplinary teamwork in primary health care mean that the principle of patient confidentiality is becoming difficult to uphold. The debate about confidentiality so far has paid little attention to patients' views. AIM. A qualitative study was undertaken to explore patients' expectations and attitudes concerning confidentiality of patients' medical records in general practice. METHOD. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 39 patients from one general practice. RESULTS. Patients' expectations diverged considerably from actual practice. The majority of interviewees felt that administrative and secretarial staff should not have access to medical records. Some patients had reservations about a doctor not directly involved in their care having access to their records. They were unaware of the fact that practice staff had ready access to their medical records. Interviewees had particular concerns about recording of nonmedical information in their records, and the confidentiality of computerized records. CONCLUSION. Assumptions of shared doctor-patient definitions of confidentiality, at least in this practice, would be misplaced. It is suggested that explicit negotiations about what is recorded in patients' records would go some way to addressing the discrepancies identified in this study.
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