Cyber attacks and ID theft will increase as patient data is made digital and accessible online, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has warned.
Dawn Monaghan, public sector group manager at the ICO, said that the goal of sharing patient data across the health service puts personal information at greater risk from hackers.
"I would suggest that the cyber security and ID theft side of things will start to come up the pile in healthcare when you get proper online access to information," she said at a Westminster Health Forum event attended by V3.
The risks posed to medical data were underlined last week when US healthcare giant Anthem was hit by a "very sophisticated" cyber attack that exposed details on 80 million customers.
Furthermore, as well as the risks posed by cyber hackers Monaghan noted that most data loss incidents are still caused by mistakes such as printing errors or information being left on public transport.
"It's where you've left it on a train, or printed it to a machine that was in some car mechanic's shop down the road," she said.
The comments follows from new powers given to the ICO to enable it to carry out compulsory audits of public sector healthcare organisations, in light of numerous data loss incidents within the NHS.
Nevertheless, despite such risks to patient data, Monaghan said this should not stop the NHS considering ways to share patient data to improve healthcare.
"Obviously there are risks and any data sharing needs to be thought through. We do have to be careful that we don't wind up with so much to consider here, so many risks to mitigate, that we won't do it," she said.
"In our experience, it can be much more detrimental to a patient not to share [data] than to share."
Monaghan added that it was also important that the public is kept informed about how their medical records are being used, and are given clear options to opt in or out of sharing practises.
She also underlined the importance of ensuring patient data is accurate and up-to-date when used across different healthcare services.
Dr Philip Koczan, chief clinical information officer at UCL Partners, echoed Monaghan's views, adding: "We need to get high quality data captured accurately at the point of care without [putting pressure] on the clinician."
Dealing with consent
The issue of consent was a running theme throughout the event. Medical professionals cited the need to establish a clear approach to gaining permission to use medical records to benefit individuals and the NHS.
Dr John Lockley, clinical lead for informatics at NHS Bedfordshire, said that fragmentation in the NHS poses a practical problem in sharing data legally across services.
"If the whole NHS and its sub-contracted healthcare are considered as a single legal unit for information governance purposes, this might reach most of the problems to sharing information," he said.
Dr Charles Gutteridge, chief clinical information officer at Barts Health NHS Trust, agreed. "You have to have a single system, and you must record, collect, share and use the data," he said.
Data use and its regulation are currently on the political agenda, as the European Union's push for new data protection laws poses questions for MPs ahead of the General Election regarding their stance on these topics.
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