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Emailing patients ‘requires opt-in’

11 March 2014

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Patients should ‘opt-in’ before receiving any electronic communication – such as emails – from their GP, a medical defence organisation has claimed. 

According to MDDUS, doctors must consider “consent and confidentiality issues” when sending patient data electronically. 

MDDUS joint head of professional services Dr Anthea Martin said: “Not all patients wish to receive emails or texts from their medical practice.

“It is therefore important that only those patients who agree to communicate electronically receive information via email or text.” 

Members of the MDDUS have revealed concerns over what information is appropriate to share with patients through email, following debates in the media over the sharing of patient information. 

Dr Martin believes doctors should agree levels of disclosure before sending any information electronically. 

She said: “Where patients wish to receive an email or a text from their GP, there are still risks of confidentiality breaches to consider, even with something as straightforward as rescheduling a patient’s appointment.

“It’s important to consider who has access to an email account or mobile phone – it may not just be the patient. Personal circumstances and relationships within families are all different and you should not presume to know what people might want to keep private.”

“Many practices now allow for patient contact through secure password-protected online systems,” adds Dr Martin. “Encryption can reduce some of the risks but no system can be completely secure so it is important to consider confidentiality risks in all information exchanges with patients and colleagues.

“Doctors must be satisfied that there are appropriate security arrangements in place and consider the potential for data security breaches in all electronic communications involving confidential patient data.

“Doctors should also refrain from discussing clinical issues via email. For routine inquiries, an email exchange can be a convenient way of communicating. However, it’s not a substitute for face-to-face consultations. Finally, any electronic exchange with a patient should be considered part of the patient’s medical records and recorded.”