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GP receptionists breaching patient confidentiality, report hospital doctors

By Steve Nowottny

GP receptionists are routinely breaching patient confidentiality by disclosing information over the telephone, a group of hospital doctors have warned.

A team from the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust telephoned 45 different GP practices to obtain information about 51 patients, asking for gaps in addresses, contact numbers and current treatments in order to complete demographic details for an audit.

Despite not having their identity verified in more than a third of cases, the doctors successfully obtained contact details for 50 of the 51 patients.

The doctors published their findings as a BMJ Rapid Response report, arguing that confidentiality fears over Summary Care Records and the new Healthspace system may be overblown by comparison.

They concluded: ‘We greatly appreciate the ease with which GP receptionists assisted us, however it would seem that such help is potentially open to abuse by anyone with a convincing medical story ‘calling from the hospital.''

‘Human links in the patient record chain are far more vulnerable to error, and we have been alarmed at the ease with which we have obtained confidential patient details by telephone.'

‘The current debate surrounding electronic medical record security should perhaps re-focus on the current potential for breaches rather than conceptual ones in the future.'

Receptionist risk: patient confidentiality not being safeguarded Receptionist risk: patient confidentiality not being safeguarded

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