Electronic health records : what measures health professionals can take to protect patient data?
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Electronic health records use in South Africa is limited. Globally, increased efforts are being made to digitalise medical records into one interoperable system.. Due to the nature of the transmission and storage of such confidential information via electronic means, the issues of privacy, informed consent and the security of such systems have given rise to legal-ethical debate. Other issues such as ownership of such records and their security have not been entirely resolved. However, in both South Africa and internationally, it is accepted that negligent or unlawful disclosure of confidential medical information can violate a person’s right to privacy and impair their dignity. The use of electronic means has been implicated in changing the doctor-patient relationship by adding business efficiencies such reliability, accuracy and speed. Other issues include whether additional contracts are required between the stakeholders when electronic health records and electronic means are used. Contractual terms such as the use of exemption clauses and the legal implications of use thereof need further consideration. Health records are an ancient art that has transcended into a contemporaneous record that can include various digital and electronic elements. Developed countries such as the United States of America and United Kingdom have more experience in the use of electronic health records systems and their associated security than places like South Africa. The academic literature thus focuses on the legal and ethical implications of electronic health records in these developed countries. A brief comparative analysis was undertaken of a few selected medical professional bodies in the United States and United Kingdom. A comprehensive evaluation was conducted of South African statutory law in relation to the use of electronic health records. The Tshalabala-Msimang case that discussed the theft and publication of health records provided the foundation for the development of measures for the use of electronic health records in South Africa. An evaluation of the Cybercrimes and Cyber Security Bill assisted in advocating a model of measures that can be employed when electronic health records are used.