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Dr John Chisholm
"They would help patients build a closer relationship with doctors"
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Monday, 17 April, 2000, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Doctors back NHS 'smart' cards
Prescription form
The 'smart' card would contain prescription details
Doctors have backed proposals for an NHS 'smart' card that would contain details of a patient's medical record and prescription requirements.

The proposal, which would effectively allow patients to hold details of their personal medical history, is under consideration by a committee set up by ministers to consider ways to modernise the NHS.

The technology is already available and the committee is due to report its recommendations in the next few months.

However, there are civil liberties concerns about how this information might be used.

This may well be an idea whose time has come

Dr John Chisholm, British Medical Association

Deborah Clark, director of parliamentary relations for the National Council of Civil Liberties, said it was a good idea to give patients access to their own medical details, and control over who else sees the information.

But she warned that effective safety systems would have to be put in place to guard against breaches of confidentiality.

She said: "They would need to be secure so they could only be accessed by appropriate medical personnel.

"We would not want anybody just to be able to log in and check out their friend's medical details just because they happened to be a doctor or a nurse.

"The only people who should be able to gain access are those who provide treatment or need to carry out a medical investigation."

Advantages for patients

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP Committee and a member of the modernisation committee team, said 'smart' cards would bring advantages both for health workers and patients.

Dr Chisholm said successful trials of 'smart' cards had been carried out more than a decade ago in Devon, and the cards were already used in other countries, such as France.

Dr John Chisholm
Dr John Chisholm believes 'smart' cards would have advantages
He said: "This may well be an idea whose time has come.

"It empowers the patient to know the content of their records, to know more about their healthcare, and to form more of a partnership relationship with the people who are looking after that patient."

Some people are concerned that there was a risk that 'smart' cards would be lost by patients.

But Dr Chisholm said research had shown that patients were less likely to lose their records than NHS authorities.

"Actually, it may mean that the records are more secure."

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