Beware loss of privacy with healthcare database

Having a national digital healthcare database is good, but there are also pitfalls, such as the loss of privacy (S'pore 'on track to have one of world's most IT-enabled healthcare systems'; May 31).

My cousin once explored upgrading her insurance, but was distressed to find that every "long-term ailment" she had ever consulted a public doctor for, such as eczema and allergic rhinitis, was on file in the National Electronic Health Records (NEHR) and was excluded from the policy. Even a visit to a private gynaecologist for a relatively minor problem was recorded.

When signing up for insurance, many of us allow the insurer to get all our medical data without a second thought. We do not realise that we have just signed away our right to privacy. With the NEHR, the information is right at their fingertips.

It does not seem right for our medical information to be available to any person other than the doctor providing our care.

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Furthermore, let us not forget the recent WannaCry virus, which hit the National Health System in Britain and made the data there available to the highest bidder.

So, while we embark with zeal on a digital database, perhaps we should look at the issues such systems have created in other countries and try to address them.

In many developed countries, the employment of IT in medicine has been found to increase costs and reduce productivity. Patients also complain of doctors becoming less personal, as they are constantly staring at the screen.

We should learn from this and try to avoid all the pitfalls technology can bring.

Peter Chen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2017, with the headline 'Beware loss of privacy with healthcare database'. Print Edition | Subscribe