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Why the medical community needs to take greater precaution in keeping records secure
In this issue we will discuss the measures that medical organisations should be taking to prevent document exposure.
For patients, confidentiality isn’t a privilege or a nice-to-have – it’s a right. With medical records containing everything from medical history to personal contact information, ensuring that documents are stored and disposed of securely is of the utmost importance, both ethically and legally. In the UK information on individuals collected, processed and disposed of by healthcare organisations is subject to the requirements of the Data Protection Act, as well as guidance and codes of practice from government, regulatory and professional bodies including the Department of Health, the Care Quality Commission and the General Medical Council.
However, numerous media reports over the past few years have shown that patient record security needs to be improved. The Information Commissioner’s Office (the UK’s data regulator) monitors trends in reported data security breaches and notes that the health sector continues to report more incidents than any other1. Fines issued in 2013 for such breaches included £100,000 to Stockport Primary Care Trust following the discovery of a large number of patient records at a site formerly owned by the Trust and £200,000 to NHS Surrey following the discovery of sensitive personal data belonging to thousands of patients on hard drives sold on an online auction site. The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham said fines of up to £500,000 could be imposed to counter what he described as a “disturbing” culture in the health service.
These instances are becoming more and more common, leading to widespread feelings of concern. According to the ICO, not only is the health sector the most frequent reporter of data breaches, the number of reported incidents is also increasing – a fact that threatens not only confidentiality, but also the integrity of the medical community.
There are many causes of a potential confidentiality breach. Among them are:
In a recent independently-conducted survey, the Shred-it Information Security Tracker, responses from
individuals working in the medical sector in the UK showed that:
The main way to prevent breaches from happening is to make document security a priority. While budgetary constraints or lack of knowledge may be a contributing factor to these lapses, the repercussions that result from a data breach are too damaging to ignore.
Options to consider include:
When it comes to disposing of documents, enacting a “shred all” policy can help ensure that unneeded papers that may contain confidential information are properly destroyed.
Using the cross-cut method of shredding, Shred-it’s procedures make it nearly impossible to piece together confidential information once it has been shredded. Furthermore, Shred-it also destroys hard drives, meaning that medical records and other confidential files that are stored electronically can also be disposed of safely and efficiently. Customers also have the option of watching the process from inside the truck, making sure it’s secure.
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To learn more about Shred-it services or to book your FREE Data Security Survey, visit shredit.co.uk
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