Sir Graeme Catto, President General Medical Council, UK
The GMC’s statement of the values of the profession Duties of a Doctor and our core guidance Good Medical Practice emphasise the importance of doctors working in partnership with patients. To achieve this, doctors and patients need to communicate effectively with one another, and doctors must provide patients’ with information that they want or need to know in order to make decisions about their care. For example in Duties of a Doctor we say that doctors must:
Work in partnership with patients
- Listen to patients and respond to their concerns and preferences
- Give patients the information they want or need in a way they can understand
- Respect patients’ right to reach decisions with you about their treatment and care
- Support patients’ in caring for themselves to improve and maintain their health.
We welcome and support the use of new technology, including records access systems, which can make a significant contribution to the provision of information patients need in order to make decisions about their care.Of course, patient access to records, on request, has been a requirement under the Data Protection Acts since 1991. The current Act provides safeguards for patients themselves, and for the privacy of third parties. Clearly these legal obligations must be met, whatever means is used to give patients access to records.
Providing access to records outside the context of the Act does introduce some new questions, including the need to record information in a way patients can understand, how bad news, for example from test results, is communicated to patients, and how patients’ privacy can be maintained.
These are not new issues of principle, but practical matters that need to be addressed sensitively. They do not undermine the principles of openness and honesty with patients, or of the benefits of partnerships with patients, which records access systems will foster, and that the GMC supports.
Letter to Dr. Brian Fisher, 31 October 2007, publication authorised by Sir Graeme Catto.