A survey of general practices' attitudes to the use of information technology shows that most are open to sharing patient information provided that appropriate security and privacy measures are in place.
The survey of 1042 New Zealand general practices was conducted in February by HealthLink. There was a 35 percent response rate.
HealthLink CEO Tom Bowden says the overall assessment was that general practices continue to take a very conservative stance on health information privacy.
"Because they have been high users of information technology for the past 15-20 years, general practices are well aware of the important risks and challenges posed to patient privacy and the enormous importance of maintaining the public's trust in the health system" he says.
"We are very pleased to see the resoluteness with which general practices embrace the importance of patient privacy, despite constant efforts to debate privacy's importance. We are often told that privacy no longer matters. A number of IT industry leaders seem to strongly believe that is the case."
The survey showed there was an increasing level of agreement that it would be useful to access information about patients from other sources: for instance, when a patient is in hospital it would be good to see what is happening on the hospital system.
In fact, this is happening in some parts of New Zealand.
A majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that being able to refer patients electronically to any other healthcare provider was desirable.
The vast majority (277) of general practices nearly always used their computers during patient consultations, which Bowden says is consistent with HealthLink's expectations.
"According to the Commonwealth Fund, New Zealand has the highest levels of advanced practice management system used in any of the 11 OECD countries they survey," he says.
Eighty-one percent of practices were either quite likely or very likely to agree to local hospital emergency departments having online access to their patients' medical records, provided there was patient consent to do so.