Dr Chris Mimnagh: What can GPs learn from the Facebook data breach scandal?

What does the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica furore mean for general practice?

As ever, today, tomorrow, probably not a lot. However I believe it is a signal of a shift in people's views about information which will threaten the NHS as it exists. 

The first step on that journey are the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which come in to effect in May. The responsibilities of being a custodian of data are taking a massive leap forward with the GDPR. Looking at the Facebook debacle shows how even casually-generated data is worthy of respect in secondary use.

The NHS is 70 years old this year. We have, since inception, amassed data. Initially in folders that fit into coat pockets, also in A4 hospital folders that lived on decades after their subjects demise.

Our gentle sway into electronic records means that our responsibilities are more significant now than ever before.

So, why is it an existential threat to the NHS?

Looking across the pond, the US's Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) means that individuals have the right to port their data between health service providers. Our current systems struggle to send records from trust to trust.

Our responsibilities now under GDPR may be just about deliverable with collaboration at scale. But for the future the most likely solution to ownership, processing, trust and fairness in terms of data will be for the UK citizen to own their health data, to access it as freely as they do their bank records and to decide for what purpose, by who and when that data is accessed.

That control gives personal mobility.

That mobility will extend to a choice agenda which includes non-traditional models of general practice and access to care.

Those of us who are invested in traditional models of care will hope to continue, however the next generation of doctors, digital natives, will want a different model for their careers and those in their care. And that change from within will be the end of general practice as we know it.

  • Dr Chris Mimnagh is a GP in Liverpool and head of clinical innovation liaison and deployment at The Innovation Agency, the academic health science network for the north-west coast.

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