Intended for healthcare professionals


Consequences for research if use of anonymised patient data breaches confidentiality

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 20 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1366
  1. Lord Walton of Detchant, former warden,
  2. Richard Doll, director, Clinical Trials Service Unit,
  3. William Asscher, former chairman, Committee on Safety of Medicines,
  4. Rosalinde Hurley, former chairman, Medicines Commission,
  5. Michael Langman, professor of medicine,
  6. Raanan Gillon, medical ethicist,
  7. David Strachan, professor of public health sciences,
  8. Nicholas Wald, professor of environmental and preventive medicine,
  9. Peter Fletcher, independent consultant
  1. Green College, Oxford, Oxford OX2 6PS
  2. Clinical Trials Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford OX2 6HE
  3. Llangen, Near Bridgend, Vale of Glamorgan
  4. Harold Wood, Essex RM3 0LJ
  5. Department of Medicine, University of Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham B15 2TH
  6. Ethics Unit, Imperial College Health Centre, London SW7 1LU
  7. Department of Public Health Sciences, St George's Hospital Medical School, London SW17 0RE
  8. Department of Environmental and Preventive Medicine, St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College, London EC1A 7BE
  9. Pharma Services International, The Mill, Stortford Road, Hatfield Heath, Near Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire CM22 7DL (Corresponding author)

    EDITOR—During this century well conducted clinical and epidemiological research has formed the basis of remarkable advances in medical knowledge. The benefits provided to countless patients by these advances have greatly outweighed the possible risks entailed in clinical studies. The success of these endeavours has been well safeguarded by established laws, directives, regulations, and guidelines. Research using patient records has provided important information on factors predisposing to disease and successful outcomes.

    A recent legal case—Source Informatics (now owned by IMS Health) v Department of Health, 28 May 1999—now threatens much healthcare research by suggesting that the use of patient data that have been subjected to procedures ensuring the anonymity of …

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