Doctors warned of online communication risks


For immediate release: Monday, 25 June 2012

Doctors must ensure confidential patient data is kept secure under new government plans to offer online access to practices, warns UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS.

Recent government proposals in England to have a secure online system in place for patients to contact their GP are to be in operation by 2015, with some practices already using this type of communication to interact with their patients.

All GP surgeries will be expected to make electronic communication available to patients, including online booking of appointments, ordering of repeat prescriptions and access to their own medical records when requested.

While these measures will provide patients with more flexibility and greater control over their healthcare, MDDUS warn of potential pitfalls that come with the increased use of electronic communication between doctor and patient.

“The proposal to increase online access has several benefits,” says MDDUS medical adviser Dr Barry Parker. “If successfully implemented, patients will be able to communicate with the practice at a time which is convenient for them and ease the pressure on phone lines.

“Direct access to a patient’s own health record may also be helpful in promoting patient autonomy and openness of communication. Patients may be assisted in understanding their illness and its treatment by having access to information such as test results and communications between primary and secondary care.”

However, there are a number of concerns arising from the proposed online access.

“Electronic systems can be subject to misuse so any access of this kind would need to be rigorously security protected to help prevent any breach of confidentiality,” adds Dr Parker. “There would have to be sufficient IT support and guidance available for practice staff to ensure the safety of systems in operation.

“Failure to protect medical information could leave practices facing criticism from the Information Commissioner or the GMC and may even result in court action.”

There is also a risk that increasing the use of electronic communication between doctor and patient will favour those with internet access to the detriment of others.

“Those in deprived areas and vulnerable groups such as the elderly might not be able to book their appointment online,” says Dr Parker. “They may have to wait until surgery opening times before making an appointment, whilst those who have access to online facilities will be able to pre-book appointments preferentially. This will leave fewer appointments available for those who already may have difficulties in terms of access to healthcare.

“These problems need to be addressed before the proposals are implemented so that data continues to be handled appropriately and confidentially - and increased access for some does not come at the expense of access for others.”


For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to

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