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Denmark: Health Records Proposal Leads to Controversy

(Feb. 21, 2012) A new Danish executive order would permit local government officials to collect information about how an individual used health care services, in order to enhance public health planning. It is part of the 2011 revision of the health care program in the country. The order would give officials from local and regional councils access to sensitive information, including such personal matters as whether a person had been treated for a sexually transmitted infection or was taking part in addiction recovery programs. (New Health Law Threatens Data Protection, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Feb. 15, 2012).)

One government office, the data protection agency Datatilsynet, was not pleased with the executive order. Janni Christoffersen, head of that agency, argued that it would be preferable that the confidential information not be

needlessly disseminated to councils and regions … . We would rather that sensitive data was only used if it were anonymised. We are not happy with the development, but seeing as parliament has accepted the law, we are now shifting our focus to ensuring that the information is used securely and responsibly. (Id.; for a description of Datatilsynet, see Introduction to the Danish Data Protection Agency, Datatilsynet website (last visited Feb. 17, 2012).)

Non-governmental critics have also raised concerns that the provisions would invade patients' privacy. Anette Høyrup of the consumer council Forbrugerrådet has said, “[w]e think the government should repeal the proposal and instead consider the European Commission's proposal for data reform … . It will create greater protection of consumer data by allowing them [the patients] greater control over their information.” (Id.) In addition, Forbrugerrådet suggests that physical access to the files should be more carefully controlled. (New Health Law Threatens Data Protection, supra; for a description of Forbrugerrådet, see Member Profile: The Danish Consumer Council – Forbrugerrådet (Council), Consumers International website (last visited Feb. 17, 2012).)

Another critic, Ester Larsen of a parliamentary advisory panel, expressed concern that loss of confidentiality could have a health impact, stating that one could “easily imagine that some patients suffering from mental health issues or sexually transmitted diseases would choose not to receive treatment in order to prevent having their information shared.” (New Health Law Threatens Data Protection, supra.)

On the other side of the discussion, Danske Patienter, a union of patients, expressed the view that health services might be improved by access to the information. However, the organization stated it would prefer to have a private research institute control the data and that the executive order itself is “phrased far too loosely.” (Id.; for background on Danske Patienter see About Danish Patients (last visited Feb. 21, 2012).)