Protecting patient privacy in the digital age

There is no denying that technological innovation benefits all industries today, and the medical industry is no exception. The use of technology has transformed many aspects of everyday clinical practice, allowing medical professionals to offer higher quality and more efficient patient care than ever before.

Today, doctors are increasingly relying on mobile technology for patient management, clinical decision making, and medical education. However, along with its many benefits, technology in healthcare does bring some risks.

Just last week the NHS suffered from what Europol has called the “largest ransomware attack observed in history”. In England 47 NHS trusts reported difficulties, and 13 NHS organisations in Scotland were affected. Such high-profile attacks on healthcare organisations have reinforced the value and sensitivity of clinical information, and emphasised the importance of advanced security.

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A recent study by Imperial College London showed that many doctors and nurses had sent patient-related clinical information over their smartphones, in breach of information governance and GMC guidance. For doctors, 64.7% had used SMS, 33.1% had used app-based messaging, and 46% had used their smartphone camera & picture messaging. The corresponding figures in the nurse group were 13.8%, 5.7% and 7.4%, respectively (BMJ, 2015).

According to the GMC, “patients have a right to expect that their personal information will be held in confidence” (2014). Where medical education and training is concerned, sometimes it is necessary to involve patient information or clinical images – but images must always be anonymised and consent given by the patient. But even then, sharing anonymised images on social media comes with the risk that “if discussing a case in near real-time in a public space we have to consider whether the patient will be able to identify themselves even if no one else can” (GMC, 2012). Facebook, Twitter & Whatsapp are great social networking tools, but not appropriate channels for discussing clinical cases, where the privacy of patients & protection of their data must come first.

These issues of patient privacy and information governance are key principles of MedShr – a system developed specifically to allow clinical case discussion in a compliant, private, professional network. This includes secure, encrypted, HIPAA-compliant features that allow doctors, medical students and healthcare professionals to share knowledge and learn from each other within GMC guidelines. All clinical images on MedShr require patient consent & anonymisation, and any identifying information on images, scans or X-rays can be removed easily in-app. In addition, all members must be verified as medical professionals or medical students before they can access the platform. Verification maintains the integrity of clinical discussions on MedShr by ensuring that the platform is a private, professional medical network.

Technology has the power to revolutionise many aspects of the medical profession, but it must be used with care & responsibility. The huge digital library of cases & clinical images on MedShr is an invaluable learning tool for doctors and medical students at all stages of their careers, but protecting patient privacy is essential. MedShr helps doctors, medical students & healthcare professionals make the most of digital technology and peer-to-peer learning opportunities in a secure, easy, compliant way.

For more information, please refer to our User Verification and Privacy Policy pages.

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Developed by doctors, MedShr is the easiest and safest way for medical professionals to discover, discuss and share clinical cases and medical images.

Download the MedShr app for free from the App Store or Google Play. Alternatively, you can register on the website.

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