THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The apex court verdict, ruling privacy a fundamental right will have a major impact on the health sector, especially when majority of hospitals keep an electronic record of patients’ medical data. At a time when the Clinical Establishment Bill is before the Assembly, the state government is exploring the possibility of ensuring security of medical data through legislation.
The government will have to look at ensuring data security in schemes like ‘e-Health Kerala’, run by the Health Department in association with the state IT Mission. There has always been apprehension about medical data leaking to private firms like insurance companies.
Even without considering the SC verdict, not divulging patient data to private entities and maintaining professional confidentiality are part of medical ethics, pointed out medical and policy experts. Even in matters of legal dispute, upon request, medical data of patients, including the case report, is handed over to the court directly. The patient can divulge the data to the court as per his discretion. “Patient data should be given only to the patient on request. Details of the disease should not be divulged. In the case of notifiable disease, government should be notified about the patient’s details. Even in such a scenario, the government has to keep confidentiality. It should not come to the public realm,” said Dr Marthandan Pillai, chairman of IMA academic wing.
Health policy expert Dr Ekbal pointed out more significant is another issue where patient data is not being made available to the patient himself, owing to various reasons. He said there is the need for setting up a Health Maintenance Organisation - like in many other countries - to verify whether treatment protocols were followed properly.“To look whether such and such treatment or investigation was necessary for the particular patient in the light of existing treatment guidelines and protocol. Also the mechanism will help to check whether the hospital has overcharged the individual.”
The Clinical Establishment legislation can ensure some government control over such issues. At a time when the Clinical Establishment Bill is before the Assembly, the government will explore the possibilities of protection of medical data through legislation, said Health Minister K K Shylaja.
“We need to explore and identify the possibilities in this regard. Currently, there are measures for an electronic health record, which is a protected software,” the minister said adding, as per available info, there’s no need to fully link the medical data with Aadhaar.
In the wake of the SC verdict, a patient’s fundamental right to know about his own disease needs to be looked into. “Many a time close family members or relatives try not to inform the patient about his own disease, especially if it’s a terminal illness. The patient has the right to know about his disease and keep it confidential. Rather, only he and his close family have the right to know,” said IMA state president Dr VG Pradeep Kumar.