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Concern with confidentiality of computer records looks even more
unbalanced when set against the complete lack of confidential treatment in
hospital. Modern hospitals have many departments where, should a
neighbour see you enter or leave, the sign over the door will tell them
pretty much what is wrong with you.
I wonder how many people have
discovered each others' cancer treatment in the large waiting areas of
radiotherapy units, or by an accidental meeting on a ward. I am much less
worried about keeping my medical records away from some distant academic
researcher than from acquaintances and neighbours but the latter can see
me receiving care if they catch me by chance or design in a "public"
When confidentiality is so low that problems are discussed at
booking desks and names routinely called out in public places, there is
little real protection for the patient on the ground, whatever the
protection in computers. This does not mean that the latter does not
matter, only that it needs to be put in a more consistent context of
practical care delivery. Only the very rich and famous get really
confidential care, I suspect.
No competing interests
28 June 2008
Peter A West
Senior Research Associate, York Health Economics Consortium