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Deletion of electronic records

When a patient leaves our list should we delete the electronic record from our computers?

The simple answer is not yet! The fifth principle of the Data Protection Act requires that data is not retained inappropriately or for longer than necessary so it would be desirable that data is not retained once the patient has moved to another practice. But because of differences in primary care computer systems, it will probably not be possible to transfer a patient's electronic record in its entirety until the end of 2004.

In addition the audit trail that is held alongside the electronic record to keep track of all additions, changes or deletions is of considerable medicolegal importance. Until it is possible for this to be transferred safely with the new record it is vital the records are retained by the old practice. The Information Commissioner has reached an agreement with the GPC that until these problems have been solved it will be permissible for a former GP to retain records when a patient moves to a new practice.

The GPC published good practice guidelines for general practice electronic patient records (version 3) last September and these deal authoritatively with most issues relating to the use of electronic records.

Dr Christine Dewbury, Wessex LMCs

Neither Pulse nor Wessex LMCs can accept any legal liability in respect of the answers given. Readers should seek independent advice before acting on the information concerned.

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