Watchdog warns of patient confidentiality compromise

Patient confidentiality could be compromised by researchers gaining unauthorised access to the general practice research database (GPRD), the MHRA has warned.

Patients privacy could be compromised by researchers accessing certain data
Patients privacy could be compromised by researchers accessing certain data

The MHRA's Independent Scientific Advisory Committee (ISAC) is reviewing access to the database, which contains anonymised data on more than four million active patients.

In a report published last month on how the database was used in 2008/9, the committee expressed concern about ‘growing misuse' of the data.

To maintain patient confidentiality, researchers must be approved by the ISAC to use the GPRD. But the report found researchers had accessed data without permission.

‘Committee members were concerned about the growing misuse of GPRD data by some users,' the report said. ‘This was clearly reflected in some protocols in which researchers appeared to have sufficiently explored or potentially answered their study questions before protocol submission to the ISAC.'

The MHRA said there had been ‘a very small number' of instances where this procedure has not been followed.

A spokeswoman stressed the importance of researchers seeking ISAC approval. ‘This is to ensure the scientific rigour of the study, the appropriateness of GPRD as a data source, that patient and practice confidentiality is maintained and that the study falls within the overall purposes of the GPRD.'

  • Read the full version of this story in this week's GP dated 6 November

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