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GPs alerted to medicolegal pitfalls of offering website services

GP practices are being warned to be aware of the legal and confidentiality pitfalls of offering medical information on their websites.

The Medical Defence Union has urged practices to make it clear information on websites is intended solely for patients of the practice and is no substitute for consulting a GP.The MDU's medicolegal adviser Nicholas Norwell said patients should be informed that electronic transmission of data was not totally secure, especially if offering online appointment booking. He also warned of the danger of breaching patient confidentiality through the use of pictures of patients.Dr Norwell said: 'While there are obvious benefits to having a well-organised, up-to-date website – for example, in reducing did-not-attend rates by allowing patients to book appointments online – there are some drawbacks from a medicolegal point of view.'If there is any email consultation on the website, patients should be told it may be necessary to consult a GP, he said.And practices should ensure they kept their site regularly updated and accessible to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act, he added.

• How I... do email surgeries, page 52

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