The SAR government is pushing a plan to digitize hospital records and make them available to all doctors for diagnostic purposes. The aim is to provide better treatment for patients regardless of where they are located in Hong Kong, as long as doctors have consent to accessing the patient's hospital records. A digital health record system like this not only will break the barrier between public and private hospitals over sharing clinical data but also help improve healthcare efficiency as well as quality by allowing doctors greater access to information necessary for accurate diagnoses.
The system should be established and put online as soon as possible. Some private doctors and patients are known to oppose the system on grounds of personal interest, such as details concerning previous medical prescriptions, and there are typical privacy concerns. The health service sector must respect the patients' well-being above all other concerns and support the establishment of a digital record sharing platform. On their part, health authorities should step up system security measures to ensure patient privacy and make unauthorized access and use of patient records a criminal felony.
Currently, public hospitals are using a computerized information sharing system, which is accessible to private doctors who sign up as authorized users. However, this system has remained a one-way affair, as patient records in private hospitals and in the possession of individual doctors are still unavailable to public hospitals. This man-made obstacle only hurts patents' interests, and the digital record-sharing system the government is promoting aims exactly at breaking through such an obstacle for the sake of patients.
Systems like this have been in use in many countries for decades and Hong Kong, as a city known for its excellent health service, has no excuse to continue denying local patients the benefit of such a facility. While concerns about patient privacy are legitimate and while some doctors' attachment to their "intellectual property rights" understandable, these are no grounds for sacrificing patients’ interests. That is why a strict rule should be in place that only authorized attending doctors be allowed to access such records with the patients' consent. Anyone who accesses them without patient consent or allows unauthorized persons to access such information will be subject to criminal prosecution.
This is an excerpted translation of a Wen Wei Po editorial published on Dec 13.