Doctors not allowed to look at Covid-19 patients' file without permission: Privacy watchdog

Doctors at GP stations or emergency rooms are not allowed to view Covid-19 patients' files without their permission, the Dutch Data Protection Authority (AP) said in a letter to Ministers Martin van Rijn for Medical Care and Hugo de Jonge of  Public Health. The two Ministers are currently working on a temporary regulation that allows patient data to be viewed without express permission, NRC reports.

"Due to the corona crisis, the Dutch Data Protection Authority finds it justified that the medical data of corona patients can be viewed temporarily, but only if patients give permission on the spot. Unless the patient is no longer able to do so," AP chairman Aleid Wolfsen said to the newspaper. "Medical data concerns sensitive, very personal information on which the doctor's medical professional confidentiality rests. Protecting it is a fundamental privacy principle, which must be upheld even now."

The Health Ministers want to relax the rules around patient privacy during the coronavirus crisis, in an attempt to speed up the assessment of suspicious cases that show up at general practitioners' offices. Due to the coronavirus, patients often end up going to doctors that are not their regular GPs, which means that these doctors often don't have access to their files, according to NRC. Without access to a patient file, the doctor cannot quickly assess whether someone is at an increased risk due to underlying medical problem. The government therefore wants to make an exception where explicit patient permission is temporarily unnecessary.

Currently about 8 million Netherlands residents have given permission for their medical records to be viewed, and a million have explicitly said 'no'. The rest of the population hasn't made an official decision either way, according to the newspaper.