Leaders from the U.K.’s Tory Party are considering a plan to allow patients to transfer their electronic health records to online services operated by Google, Microsoft or other private firms, London’s Daily Mail reports.
The conservatives’ proposal would be an alternative to Connecting for Health, a National Health Service EHR system supported by the Labour Party.
Last year, the U.K.’s National Audit Office said NHS’ IT program was over budget and running behind schedule (Cellan-Jones, “dot.life,” BBC News, 7/6).
The NHS project is expected to launch in 2014 at a cost of 12.4 billion British pounds, or about $20.1 billion.
Tory leaders said the government’s IT system is not secure because all NHS staff can access patient records .Tory leader David Cameron said, “You don’t need a massive central computer to do this. People can store their health records securely online; they can show them to whichever doctor they want” .
Under the Tory proposal, patients could choose to move their EHRs to Web sites run by private firms. They then could access their medical record from a home computer.
Patients would need to provide consent before a health care worker could access their records.
Tory leaders said that they have not decided which private firms will provide the services but that multiple options will be available .
Although applications such as Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault already are available in the U.S., the programs would need to be adapted for use in the U.K .
Officials said it is too early to estimate a total price tag for the project. However, a Tory spokesperson said the service will “almost certainly” be available at no-cost to users .A spokesperson also said the party would discuss more details of its plan after a Tory-commissioned independent panel completes its review of NHS’ computing services (Sparrow, Guardian, 7/6).
The spokesperson said the project “is just speculation at this stage” (Press Association, 7/6).
Privacy experts have raised several concerns about the Tory proposal.
Some advocates claim that storing patient data on private Web sites will make the information more vulnerable to hackers.
In addition, the British Medical Association said the Tories’ plan to require patient consent for EHR access could hinder patient safety. For instance, physicians would be unable to access medical records for unconscious patients under the proposal .
Other observers have raised ethical issues, contending that the Tory scheme will disadvantage people without Internet access.
In addition, others have questioned whether private firms such as Google or Microsoft would attempt to profit from the venture by selling private patient data .