Should the Information Economy Grow with your health Information?

Who owns yours and your family’s medical records? You? Your GP and or their practice? The local health trust, the local hospital or the Department of Health? One of the less well publicized items from George Osborne’s autumn statement yesterday was that every individuals medical records would be available to them online within the lifetime of this parliament i.e. 4 years. Osborne claimed it would boost both the health of the nations inhabitants and the health of the information economy.

The undertaking is a small chapter within the government’s ‘open data program’, which the chancellor is trying to give a boost to under his Growth Review. Two of the four growth areas are connected to life sciences information, out of the Health Service. The objective is to promote “high-tech consumer information markets through provision of online citizen access to personal data”.

The Cabinet Office are talking up the transformational ability of public access to their own health and care data as a means to “boost growth in UK life sciences” and give “unprecedented data linking services to support enterprise and innovation.” Not quite sure what that means but it sounds like they plan to sell us our own medical records. And to do it within the next four years so that we as patients can get at our personal doctors notes through our computers. Your local authority, which currently holds this information, will be required to make it open to viewing by citizens so we can compare social care services. The ambition is that a new data market economy will develop in order to make innovative uses of all this information.

The prescription record of your local medical practice, naturally of huge business interest to the drugs industry is planned to be available but the Cabinet Office suggested that it would attract a user fee.

An information pack put out by the Cabinet Office proposes that the Health Service department, the Health and Social Care Information Centre will open “a secure data linkage service” in under a year to provide data extracts, via a data linkage from primary and secondary health care and other sources. This will be “on a routine basis at an unidentifiable, individual level”. All data will be free at the point of use except for those prescription records “which will be available subject to a review of charging regimes.”

[box type=”important”]Regardless of where you live in the world, chances are that your health information is being stored in electronic medical records (Canadian phrase) or electronic health records (as typically referred to by Americans). Will these countries also look to find ways of monetizing your health information?[/box]

With regard to social care, the Cabinet Office further says the Department of Health “will work with local authorities to develop further local accounts in adult social care with the aim of ensuring the accounts provide citizens with relevant information in a way that allows comparison between councils”.

It seems that the Cabinet Office owns your medical records and it plans to share them with anybody who wants to pay for it. All anonymously of course, but it difficult to know which is more naive, the belief this could be an economic stimulant or that drug companies don’t already have all the data they need.

Claire Al-Aufi

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

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