Confidentiality of patients' information must be guaranteed

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.327.7418.812-b (Published 02 October 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:812
  1. Joanna Russell (joannarussell{at}tiscali.co.uk), senior house officer, oral and maxillofacial surgery
  1. Queen's Hospital, Burton on Trent DE13 0RB

    EDITOR—During a recent research project we needed to contact a large number of patients, many of whom had not been seen since their last review appointment about 10 years previously. Consequently, the personal contact details on the hospital database were out of date.

    We contacted the surgery of each patient's registered general medical practitioner requesting current telephone numbers and addresses. In each case the caller gave name and title—for example, Dr Smith, senior house officer in general surgery—and explained that the patient's hospital details were out of date and the current contact details were required to contact him or her for review. We noted the response of each practice to these requests.

    We contacted 46 surgeries. Only one practice asked the caller to fax the request on headed hospital notepaper. Three practices asked for a contact number at the hospital to enable them to call back with the details. Six practices requested the last known address of the patient in question, and a further 11 asked for the date of birth. An alarming 25 surgeries gave the current contact details of the named patient without asking for any further information or verifying the caller's identity.

    We became increasingly worried during this research that patients' information was so readily available. We commend the practices that seem to have implemented guidelines on the way to deal with requests for information and suggest that the gold standard should be that requests for patients' details be faxed on headed notepaper. We realise that there are financial and time implications for both the requester and provider of data, but this is no reason to abandon good practice.


    • Competing interests None declared.

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