Watchdog disputes health regulator’s right to collect patient data: Trouw

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Mental health professionals have said the Dutch health regulatory body NZa is going too far in collecting patient data because it compromises the code of confidentiality and patients’ right to privacy, Trouw reported on Thursday.

Since July staff at GGZ mental health services have to inform the NZa about the seriousness of their patients’ problems. But, professionals say, patients have not been informed of this.

‘People don’t know that their psychiatrist or psychologist have to register what their sexual problems are, how bad their addiction is and which disorder they are suffering from – and that all this will end up with the NZa,’ psychiatrist and lawyer Cobie Groenendijk told the paper.

Groenendijk is also active in mental health privacy watchdog Stop de Benchmark met ROM which is fighting the collection of patient data by insurers and, now, the NZa.

The NZa, which sends out detailed score lists for professionals to fill out online, says it is aiming to collect the data of 800,000 GGZ patients so it will have a better insight into the care that will be needed in future.

The data will be encrypted and anonymised, keeping the possibility of finding out patients’ identity to a minimum, the NZa said. Only patients who object in writing are exempt from the rule.

But no matter how encrypted the data, health professionals feel their confidential relationship with patients is being jeopardised by the new rule. ‘I can understand that patients who find out about this would feel betrayed,’ Groenendijk, who is advising her clients to object, said.

Privacy rules

According to Groenendijk the NZa, which will fine professionals if they deliver incomplete or no data, is circumventing privacy rules by using a exemption clause in the privacy regulations.

But that, she says, is in contravention of a ruling by the privacy watchdog Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens which has declared that medical data falls under ‘special personal data’ which can only be gathered if patients give their informed consent.

The NZa claims it is acting in accordance with European privacy rules but Groenendijk, backed by a number of lawyers, is challenging this. The NZa and Stop de Benchmark lawyers will meet to discuss the matter on Thursday.

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