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How the demands of healthcare delivery are superseding the privacy debate

Recent press coverage in the UK about harried GP practices offering patients Skype and email consultations in order to address the estimated 50 million occasions during the last year on which it was not possible for NHS service users to schedule face-to-face appointments have taken many by surprise.

Only a few months ago, concerns about the ‘safety’ of using VOiP services such as Skype in a healthcare setting were being brought to the privacy debate that focused on the UK’s forthcoming electronic health record system.

“What if Skype calls are intercepted, or recorded?”, it was asked.

Such questions are seldom posed as a duty of care with regard to safeguarding the security of novel forms of patient access to provider services, but as a means of evading the hard work involved in redesigning existing provider workflows.

VOiP is neither more nor less secure than any other existing means of patient-clinician interaction.

Overlooking the fact that patient consent is customarily taken to include all forms of provider communication unless expressly stated, from a logical standpoint it makes no sense to say that VOiP calls are less private than medical records left open momentarily at a GP’s reception, or an overheard telephone call between a doctor and their patient, or a patient-clinician conversation that might be audible through a door during a consult, or an intercepted or otherwise lost piece of correspondence such as a test result.

Technology has the ability to reduce the cost of delivering healthcare, and can be utilised effectively in order to reduce the personal and economic burden of care in single-payer healthcare systems.

It’s just a shame that this has had to be pointed out 50 million times in the UK, at an untold human cost to patients and their families.

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