Sunday, 4 November 2012

Digital divide, health records access and online security

Oxford Internet Study 2011

The 'digital divide' is very real. The Oxford Internet study is conducted every two years and the above chart is from their most recent survey in 2011. Level of income here relates to household income rather than individual outcome. If you live in a household with an income above £40K it is almost guaranteed that you will have online access. If you live in a poor household with an income of less that £12.5K it is most likely that you won't. There are also stark divisions related to age and educational levels described here.

I've just been having an interesting discussion with Amir Hannan, a GP who is a very strong advocate of patient access to their own health records, about how the digital divide means that those who are most likely to have health problems are least likely to be online... bringing us in the direction of a digital 'inverse care law'.

So if you are a GP and are encouraging patients to access their records online what would you say to those who lack the means to be online? Amir said that patients who are not yet online are directed to a course run by the local library which helps to get people online. But what if you can not afford to have your own access at home, should patients be encouraged to access their medical records from public places such as libraries or internet cafes? What are the risks? Or what about using a computer at the house of friends or family?

Of course, it's not only those who don't have their own computers at home who may use other computerss that they do not own themselves. What issues should you be concerned about if accessing your records from a computer that is also shared with your family or from your work place? Or a hotel lobby when on holiday?

A quick search does not reveal guidance about these issues for people in the UK. Here is the log-in page for the EMIS general practice records access. There is no link to information about online security. Contrast this with information which is available from online banking websites on what to look out for when using their services, for example here is a page on online security from Intelligent Finance.

If there are issues around the online security of accessing health records online, then those who don't have their own internet access at home, are more likely to be at risk. Do you have any examples of links to information in easy to understand forms which will help people to understand and address these issues? Or is it not an issue at all?

EDIT: some great guidance from BCS on accessing records <- they state if possible not to access from public computers, but if you do to clear browsing history.*** note this guidance is draft and NOT FOR CIRCULATION but I found it through Google ;-) ***

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