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Denmark: Doctors Concerned About Data Sharing

(June 28, 2013) Denmark is in the midst of a debate on a revision of its health care law, and doctors in general practice are concerned about the proposed changes to how they work. In particular, some doctors have expressed concern that under the law now being considered, they will have to submit more patient data that could eventually reach pharmaceutical companies. (Peter Stanners, “Big Data” at Heart of Doctor Conflict, THE COPENHAGEN POST (June 17, 2013); Constance A. Johnson, Denmark: Government Plans Health Care Reforms, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (May 13, 2013).)

The doctors have been in year-long negotiations with the association of regional councils (Danske Regioner) over their working conditions. The councils are responsible for managing health care in Denmark. In May, the government proposed legislation to regulate general practitioners’ work conditions; in order to keep providing care under the state-funded plan, doctors will have to accept the legislation’s provisions. (Stanners, supra.)

According to Astrid Krag, the Health Minister, the new law is needed because at present general practitioners do not do enough follow-up care with their patients, do not carry out standard practices, and do not wish to serve in thinly populated parts of the country. (Id.) The motivation for the new requirements was questioned by Imran Rashid, a Copenhagen doctor, who said the purpose of the proposed legislation is really to collect data. Rashid stated:

When the government presented the bill, Krag argued that the government needed more data in order to check that they were getting what they were paying for. … But the government has already launched a plan to sell more Danish health data to the medical and pharmaceutical industry. I am afraid that’s the real hidden agenda. (Id.)

A second physician, Ingrid Trinignac, expressed agreement with Rashid’s questioning of the government plan, arguing that the state is hoping to use health data for financial gain. She added that the plan is really designed not to make sure care is consistent, but for profit through sale of data. She feels that “[i]t’s a completely different agenda” than what was publicly argued, and she raised the concern that privacy might not be adequately protected. (Id.)

The government did establish a committee in April 2012, composed of private and public sector organizations, that concluded in a January 2013 report that health data is a valuable resource for the medical and pharmaceutical industries. (Id.) That report indicated that the Health Ministry is planning a strategy for access to data that would be made anonymous and that

demand for health data from Danish and international businesses is expected to rise over the coming years. The health registers are expected to attract research and development investments which could create growth. … The goal is to make Denmark the global leader in applying health data and making it commercially available. The strategy will improve access for the health service, educational and research institutions and businesses to health data to support business and growth opportunities. (Id.)