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Doctor visit text reminders violate patient privacy: health board

TT/The Local/rm · 8 Apr 2011, 08:34

Published: 08 Apr 2011 08:34 GMT+02:00

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The National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) have found them to be in breach of their rules on patient confidentiality.

“It is against our rules. The texts contain patient information and must therefore be handled securely,” Anders Printz of the National Board of Health and Welfare said to daily Dagens Nyheter (DN).

Today, many health care providers in Sweden use text messages to remind patients of looming appointments. But now this will have to cease. At least for the time being.

The rules apply to both dentists' and doctors' appointments and it makes no difference if the patient has agreed to be contacted by text message.

The National Board of Health and Welfare argue that because the traffic is not encrypted there is no way of making sure that the texts reach the right person.

“It is unfortunate really. Text message reminders have proven to work really well for health care providers to ensure that their patients remember their appointments. We are looking into ways to how exceptions may be made,” Printz told DN.

The Swedish Public Dental Service (Folktandvården) is one health care provider that has made good use of text message reminders. They think that the reasoning around text messages is surprising.

Story continues below…

“It seems strange that it wouldn’t be allowed to send text messages to those patients that have agreed to it. If they give us their phone number we are allowed to phone them,” Irene Smedberg of the Public Dental Service said to DN.

TT/The Local/rm (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

09:30 April 8, 2011 by Da Goat
For people who invented mobile telephony that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard:

"The National Board of Health and Welfare argue that because the traffic is not encrypted there is no way of making sure that the texts reach the right person."

The fact is the message is encrypted the first thing that happens to it and it stays encrypted until received by the persons phone!

it is human error only if it goes to the wrong person! (or someone steals your phone)

the health board need to actually communicate with some one who knows not just assume the worst. It takes quite some computer hacking (and access in the first place) to get a SMS out of the system!

it is both digital and time/code multiplexed and encrypted as well
10:19 April 8, 2011 by Keith #5083
Like snail mail notifications are encrypted? So if my neighbour (accidently?) receives my snail-mail and opens it, that's not a breach of confidentiality?

I am not worried about Julius Assange (or anyone else) knowing when I visit my doctor or dentist. It clearly seems that person/s on the NBHW don't want others to know when they visit their D or D. Wonder what they've got that's so embarrasing?
10:26 April 8, 2011 by BrittInSweden
@Keith Exactly my thoughts. What makes them believe snail mail is more secure than an SMS. At least an SMS doesn't go through multiple people and machines with a risk of getting lost on the way and lets face it Swedish postal service is sub par.

Never thought I would admire and miss Royal Mail until I experienced what Sweden has to offer for a postal service.
11:03 April 8, 2011 by urban stkhlm
@all same thoughts here - encrypted? Double-checked the Swedish news item in DN to make sure this article was not mistaken. Surely the encrypted rule is not being used for physical letters sent to people? Maybe it should be like email mailing lists with an SMS opt-in option.
11:34 April 8, 2011 by Strongbow
The dentist could give you a code book and then you easily decrypt the reminder letter at home with your chinese made Enigma machine. Who knows what could happen if your Folktandvården-appointment gets intercepted by a third party?
11:42 April 8, 2011 by zeero
@Da Goat SMS is never encrypted, it's running on a pure text protocol. And it's very east to "listen to". This GSM 1on1.
12:55 April 8, 2011 by Swedesmith
OMG, this is so crazy. It made me LOL.
16:35 April 8, 2011 by swedejane
SMS is neither encrypted or guaranteed to be delivered....and yes, SMS go through multiple machines before reaching their destination.
16:55 April 8, 2011 by Carbarrister
Hello: Confidentialty belongs to the patient and not the The National Board of Health and Welfare.

If patients want text reminders they should get them.
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