Whose Property?

Paul Taylor writes about the trade in medical records

Patients often complain that their GP spends more time typing and looking at a computer screen than listening to them. This isn’t really new: doctors have kept records of their encounters with patients since the time of Hippocrates. But changes in record-keeping practices have both reflected and enabled the development of modern scientific medicine, which is less concerned with patients and more with their diseases. Today’s doctors are taught to get a comprehensive history from each patient and to document it in a highly structured way, beginning with the complaint and the patient’s account of it, followed by the doctor’s observations and assessment of the case and, finally, the management plan, whether that is the initiation of treatment, the ordering of tests or simply a note that the patient was reassured. Recording the history isn’t just a matter of documenting a few facts: it’s part of the process of working out the case. It is also, in a way that might not be immediately obvious, creative work. The doctor’s diagnosis and the information he or she records is new intellectual property – property that can be, and is, bought and sold.

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