Only 3pc of Ireland was worried about healthcare data security before HSE breach

23 Sep 2021

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HIQA has released the results of a survey on Irish attitudes to healthcare information digitisation and privacy.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has released a report on Irish people’s attitudes to the digitisation of healthcare information.

The statutory body commissioned the study, called the National Public Engagement on Health Information, alongside the Health Service Executive (HSE). More than 1,300 people were asked their opinions as part of the survey.

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Just 3pc of people polled said they were concerned about the security of their digital healthcare record. However, collection of data for the survey took place between October and December 2020, before the huge HSE cyberattack in May 2021.

In general, survey respondents were aware of the importance of accurate records and the ability to share those records between different treatment providers.

As much as 97pc of people feel it is important for healthcare professionals to have proper access to patient information during treatment and 86pc think that all healthcare professionals involved in their treatment should have access to an electronic health record.

Almost all respondents (99pc) believe doctors should be able to access such information electronically, without permission, in situations where patients are unconscious.

Irish people are clearly concerned about the privacy of their records as well as security, in an age when data protection is an everyday concern. 82pc want to know which professionals have access to their info, 86pc want access to their own records online, and 77pc would like to know how their personal data is being used beyond their direct care.

Another 71pc feel it’s important to know what information is being shared between their GP and hospitals. More people trust their personal doctor to keep their information secure than trust hospitals, at 90pc versus 74pc.

About one-fifth (21pc) detailed some concerns about healthcare professionals having access to an electronic record.

94pc of people believe health information should be used to improve the quality of care, and 93pc think it should be applied to planning healthcare services.

With that in mind, people are generally OK with their own data being used for policy purposes, within the limits of privacy. 89pc are happy with their information helping to improve service quality if it’s anonymised, but only 34pc if it is not.

HIQA director of health information and standards Rachel Flynn commented: “The findings of this survey show that a move towards a digital healthcare system is welcomed. People see the value of sharing health information electronically and of healthcare professionals having quicker access to a patients records.

“However, in the aftermath of the cyberattack on HSE systems, it is more important than ever that the public is assured about the security of patient information.”

Flynn continued: “It is also essential that patients are sufficiently informed about any use of their information. As such, HIQA will use these findings to develop national recommendations for the Minister for Health on a model for the collection, use and sharing of personal health information.”

A report from the Irish Council for Civil Liberties this month described Ireland as Europe’s “wild west” for data protection, strongly criticising the Irish Data Protection Commission for its handling of complaints, particularly against large tech companies.

Updated, 2.21pm, 23 September 2021: An earlier version of this article mistook the figure regarding concerns about access to electronic health records. This has been corrected along with other amendments for clarity.

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin

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