National Electronic Health Record system must respect patients' rights

I thank the Integrated Health Information Systems for their reply regarding the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) system (Electronic health records key to better and safer care; Dec 13).

I do not deny that the NEHR has the potential to be a "key enabler" in allowing continuity of care.

However, the issue of privacy seems to have been overlooked altogether.

The current proposed NEHR, when enacted, requires the capture of diagnoses and investigation results for all patients, of both public and private medical practitioners.

While patients have the right to opt out of the system, doctors have been told that the data will be captured nonetheless but "locked away".

Such a system ignores the autonomy of the patient and runs roughshod over their right to privacy.

The Ministry of Health should also clarify if data for foreign patients will be similarly captured. If so, it may well deter many foreign patients or even foreigners working in Singapore from seeking treatment here.

It is perhaps timely that an article was published on the Mindef's plan to hunt for vulnerabilities in its Internet-connected systems, which were hacked previously (Mindef to invite hackers to break into its Internet-connected systems to detect weaknesses, Dec 13).

Suffice it to say, data protection will not always ensure security.

It was previously suggested that the delay in the implementation of the NEHR was due to the tardiness of private doctors, while public medical facilities have conscientiously contributed to the scheme.

As it stands, the electronic health record systems of the different public institutions do not communicate directly with one another, and there is no information regarding the accuracy of these systems.

It appears that the NEHR will be implemented regardless of the concerns that have been raised.

It is important to get a system that is robust and secure which respects the rights of individual patients, rather than force start a flawed system simply because it has been waiting in the wings since 2011.

Sitoh Yih Yiow (Dr)