Consider all stakeholders' views, concerns over electronic health records

Patients with sexually transmitted diseases, mental issues arising from a breakdown in social and family units and chronic and multi-system diseases do hesitate to seek help.

This is evidenced by the many Singaporeans who visit doctors in private hospitals and overseas despite having cheaper alternatives in our public institutions.

So, I agree with Dr Desmond Wai Chun Tao (Electronic health records could curb patients from seeking psychiatric help; May 12).

However, it is also undeniable that the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) can be of great help.

For instance, Singaporeans can now enjoy subsidised medicines and investigations but be reviewed by private doctors. Private GPs have a new role to play in co-managing patients with chronic diseases.

The transparency granted by NEHR will helppatients when they seek a second opinion by cutting redundant testing, for example. It will also facilitate communication between general practitioners and specialists as well as between doctors from the private and public sectors.

Those who abuse sleeping pills and other drugs can be quickly identified as well, and a relevant referral can be made to help them.

But, in order for NEHR to live up to its potential, views from all stakeholders must be considered. Their concerns must be fully addressed and overcome.

We must not make the common mistake of software engineers who write computer programs expecting users to adapt.

The public today values autonomy, privacy, confidentiality and justice. Thus, the NEHR needs to put the ownership of medical data back into the public's hands.

The Ministry of Health must also assure, beyond doubt, that medical data is safe, secure and will be kept completely private and confidential.

Medical professionals operate within the boundaries of medical ethics. New laws can be passed to ensure their compulsory participation in NEHR.

However, there are still many uncertainties and fears raised by medical professionals that have not been adequately addressed. Sending them to jail for failure to participate in NEHR is obviously not the way forward.

The regulatory and professional bodies must work together to implementNEHR. If this spirit can be extended indefinitely, it will give practitioners much more confidence in the system.

Leong Choon Kit (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2018, with the headline 'Consider all stakeholders' views, concerns over electronic health records'. Print Edition | Subscribe