Accident physicians: GDPR interpretation “endangers human life”

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Dietmar Pennig, General Secretary of the German Society for Orthopedics and Trauma Surgery (DGOU), warns that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) makes accident care more difficult. “The interpretation of the GDPR endangers human life,” said the chief physician at the St. Vinzenz Hospital in Cologne on Tuesday on the sidelines of a DGOU congress in Berlin. This is “irresponsible”.

Specifically, Pennig is concerned with the trauma network developed by experts in 2008 with an associated register. Its aim is to transport emergency patients, for example in the event of a car accident or an incident with numerous injuries, to the nearest possible hospital, which is appropriately specialized and currently has capacities available.

Ideally, the ambulance transfers important patient data, such as blood values, to the facility that has been located before the patient arrives, so that preparations at the clinic can start. According to the DGOU, this transfer is subject to GDPR regulations. The “express consent of the patient” is therefore required. In emergencies, however, he is often unresponsive or unconscious. The result is “that valuable time passes”.

“The trauma network saves time and saves lives”, stressed Pennig. For him, it would therefore be a matter of course that the ambulance would send blood or ECG values ​​to the hospital so that the patient could be taken over in the best possible way. For the medical professional it is therefore clear: “The GDPR hinders life saving.” At the same time, he pointed out that he did not know any seriously injured person “who was accessible” and who had refused to pass on the data.

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The DGOU boss also sees the maintenance of the trauma register as being hampered by the European data protection regulations and the associated administrative and legal hurdles. The database was launched in 1993 and has since documented around 400,000 treatment courses. Around 800 participating hospitals enter the data records that are used for national quality assurance. They are designed to help improve treatments.

“The number of patient cases entered is falling dramatically as a result of the GDPR,” says Pennig. In 2019 alone, the admission rate fell by 17 percent. It is therefore to be feared “that the figures are no longer valid, that is, they are no longer reliable for improvements”.

The expert calls for an adaptation of the data protection rules via a special law for the trauma register in order to provide better emergency care for patients. This should lower the GDPR hurdles. Pennig underlined: “We want to use pseudonymized data in a legally secure manner, even without a declaration of consent.” In the case of pseudonymization, the GDPR already provides for expanded processing options, e.g. for research, as this reduces risks for the persons concerned and supports those responsible in complying with their obligations.


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