Electronic patient data confidentiality practices among surgical trainees: Questionnaire study

Damian J. Mole*, Colin Fox, Giulio Napolitano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The objective of this work was to evaluate the safeguards implemented by surgical trainees to protect the confidentiality of electronic patient data through a structured questionnaire sent to Northern Ireland surgical trainees. Participants and Methods: A group of 32 basic and higher surgical trainees attending a meeting of the Northern Ireland Association of Surgeons-in-Training were invited to complete a questionnaire regarding their computer use, UK Data Protection Act, 1988 registration and electronic data cofidentially practices. Results: Of these 32 trainees, 29 returned completed questionnaires of whom 26 trainees regularly stored sensitive patient data for audit or research purposes on a computer. Only one person was registered under the Data Protection Acts, 1988. Of the computers used to store and analyse sensitive data, only 3 of 14 desktops, 8 of 19 laptops and 3 of 14 hand-held computers forced a password logon. Of the 29 trainees, 16 used the same password for all machines, and 25 of 27 passwords were less than 8 characters long. Two respondents declined to reveal details of their secure passwords. Half of all trainees had never adjusted their internet security settings, despite all 14 desktops, 16 of 19 laptops and 5 of 14 hand-held being routinely connected to the internet. Of the 29 trainees, 28 never encrypted their sensitive data files. Ten trainees had sent unencrypted sensitive patient data over the internet, using a non-secure server. Conclusion: Electronic data confidentiality practices amongst Northern Ireland surgical trainees are unsafe. Simple practical measures to safeguard confidentiality are recommended.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-553
Number of pages4
JournalAnnals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2006


  • Confidentiality
  • Electronic data
  • Questionnaire
  • Surgical trainees


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