Electronic health records could curb patients from seeking psychiatric help

The new Healthcare Services Act, which will make participation in the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) a licensing requirement, will soon be tabled in Parliament for legislation.

There is no doubt that NEHR brings along many advantages but there other issues to be considered, including a patient's privacy rights.

As a gastroenterologist, I often have patients with alcohol addiction problems, eating disorders, stress or anxiety disorders and those who have attempted suicide.

Patients with such problems would benefit from psychiatric consultation and treatment.

However, I often have great difficulty persuading them to seek psychiatric help. Some patients do not want the stigma of having a psychiatric illness.

Another reason often cited by patients is that they are worried that with a psychiatric referral in their medical record, they may face discrimination by their insurers or doctors in future.

The NEHR would mandate all doctors to put in their diagnoses and prescribed medications into the system.

As this data is available to all doctors seeing the patient in the future, these patients may be more reluctant to seek psychiatric help.

An easy system allowing patients to opt out of having their medical records entered into NEHR should be considered.

Patients needing psychiatric help should have the reassurance that no one can access their psychiatric record without their approval.

Desmond Wai Chun Tao (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2018, with the headline 'Electronic health records could curb patients from seeking psychiatric help'. Subscribe