Guidance published to protect online patient information

28-Feb-2013

Department of Health and BCS Health unveil free guidance for patients

Guidance has been published to help ensure patients’ online health and care records are kept secure.

Keeping your online health and social care records safe and secure has been drawn up by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, in conjunction with the Department of Health and is available free of charge to patients across the UK.

It gives advice on sharing electronic health and care records, creating a strong password and keeping it secure, and developing good habits online to protect information held on computers or mobile devices.

This guidance explains how to access records safely, keep them secure, and key factors to consider before choosing to share them with others

Dr Wai Keong Wong, who has led the development of the guidelines on behalf of BCS Health, the healthcare arm of the institute, said: “We’ve created this guide because patients and users are increasingly accessing their health and care records or holding their own. By March 2015 the Government has mandated that the NHS provides patients online access to their GP medical records. These records contain potentially-sensitive personal information, so it’s important that individuals know how to keep them safe. Everyone should take the same care with their health and social care records as they do if they use online banking. This guidance explains how to access records safely, keep them secure, and key factors to consider before choosing to share them with others.”

The guidance is for people who are accessing their own records and who may want to share them with others. It does not include specific advice for people who may be using records on behalf of someone else who cannot do it themselves, for example, children or someone who needs support to make decisions.

Dr Charles Gutteridge, national clinical director of the Department of Health, said: “Millions of people across the globe are using online records and apps to look after themselves. In the UK, there is an increasing amount of online information for health purposes which includes NHS Choices, the Summary Care Record, electronic prescribing and booking systems. This guidance really helps everyone to understand how to maximise the benefits of online health resources and how to keep their personal data secure."

Everyone should take the same care with their health and social care records as they do if they use online banking

The guidance explains what health records are, how to protect them and how to share them should individuals wish to. There is also advice on protecting computers, mobile devices and how to access records using a public computer.

Dr Justin Whatling, chairman of BCS Health, said: “We believe this guidance will prove invaluable to patients, especially those who are new to using technology to access their information. We have developed and tested the advice with patients, patient support groups and other interested organisations. BCS is committed to ensuring everyone benefits from IT and this guide will help patients to engage more actively in their health and social care.”

Top tips given in the guidance include

  • Create a strong password and look after it
  • Get into good habits online, including locking devices with a password or PIN and being careful when accessing records through a shared computer or while on the move
  • Share your records safely or not at all, considering what people may do with the information you provide
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