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Sweden to launch online access to medical files

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Daniel Forslund interviewed by JMW social media strategist Brit Stakston, July 2
08:45 CET+01:00
Patients and medical professionals in Sweden will soon be able access electronic medical records online, a government health official announced this week.

By the end of the year, patients in Östergötland County in central Sweden will become the first to allow patients access to their medical records online by the end of the year, Daniel Forslund, deputy director of the healthcare division of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, said on Monday.

In addition, Örebro County in central Sweden is set to become the first region in the country to grant medical professionals nationwide access to patient files, with another two counties to follow suit by early next year.

"If a patient seeks medical attention in another part in the country, then the records will be available so a doctor will know about any allergies or reactions to certain drugs," Forslund told The Local on Wednesday.

Östergötland and Södermanland Counties are expected to follow suit in providing access to patient records across the country early next year.

The records will be made available to hospitals, primary care clinics, doctors, and gerontological care facilities.

Forslund explained that Sweden has used e-health medical systems for 20 to 30 years, but since they have been developed regionally, they do not all share the same technical specifications.

"It's mainly a question of strengthening patient safety in the health care sector," he added.

Initial pilot and planning work on access to patient records in Sweden began in 2004, while live pilots were launched in 2006. Alongside technical work, the Swedish government has also revised the legal framework to make the systems possible.

"We have worked on both the legal and technical aspects of the technology at the same time to ensure integrity and data security at a high level," said Forslund.

He estimated that Sweden spends about 6.7 billion kronor ($992.22 million) on e-health solutions annually.

The launch of the service was delayed this summer due to criticism from the Swedish Data Inspection Board (Datainspektionen) about the way the service was implemented and how patients were informed about the programme.

Implementation has been suspended since July while Örebro waited for the release of security software to properly ensure limited access to health care professionals. The rollout of Sweden's National Patient Overview, which provides an electronic summary of patient records, will be resumed next week.

As Forslund explained, patients can restrict access to records that are not relevant to the medical treatment undertaken. However, patients will not be allowed to amend or edit their medical information, but Forslund said that there may be scope to do so in the future.

Earlier in the week, Forslund announced plans in Östergötland County that would allow patients to access their medical records online.

Speaking at the e-Health Insider Live 2010 conference in Birmingham, England on Monday, Forslund explained that the records would be accessed through a new website and technology platform based on the 1177 service, which already provides patients with health advice online and over the telephone.

"It has taken a while to launch the service and to get the security right," he said at the conference.

1177.se is a national patient advisory service that features answers to questions about health care preparation and follow-ups for diagnoses. The service also allows the public to ask questions online to a doctor or renew prescriptions.

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The medical record service for patients will provide full-text records. By the end of next year, Forslund estimated more than half of Sweden's regions will provide online access to their patients.

Patients will only be able to access their records when they sign a form giving explicit consent and will need to use an additional ID solution of their choice, such as a smart card or bank card.

"At the moment the record will be read-only, but the next phase will be more about storing and sharing data with healthcare providers," Forslund said on Monday.

"You can basically do that today, but this will be in a much more structured way for healthcare professionals - for example, allowing the patient to enter information about how he or she is responding to treatment," he added.

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