Intended for healthcare professionals


Differentiating between audit and research

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 11 March 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:713

Undue protection of patient confidentiality jeopardises both research and audit

  1. Charles P Warlow, professor of medical neurology,
  2. Rustam Al Shahi, MRC clinical training fellow
  1. Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU
  2. Department of Anaesthetics, Alexandra Hospital, Redditch, Worcs B98 7UB

    EDITOR—Wilson et al have highlighted an important double standard that distinguishes clinical research from audit.1 While researchers are obliged to struggle for ethical approval to examine patient records, 2 auditors seldom have to, even though they may be temporary, non-medical staff without a long term professional commitment to respect patient confidentiality.

    The protection of confidentiality is clearly essential in each activity, so we would expect both to be affected equally by the implementation of the Data Protection Act (1998) this month. Unfortunately, it seems that identifiable information about patients, and access to their records, can be obtained only with their explicit or implicit permission. The extent to which the act will require protection of both anonymised and patient identifiable data will affect, and even perhaps jeopardise, epidemiological research, audit, …

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