General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for Care Homes

Before the current General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law, there was the Data Protection Act, which the governments of Europe saw necessary to upgrade so as to enhance the protection of their citizen’s personal data. This includes citizens in all walks of life, and in all sectors, including care homes, where GDPR seeks to further protect the patient’s super sensitive personal data held within the care plans, as well as that of the staff employed in the home. The new law will certainly have a direct effect on both state and privately owned care homes. Now, we want to tell you about some of the key changes the law introduced, and what the care home operators should do about them.

What are the main changes the introduction of GDPR brought?

Under the previous law, organisations were required to register with the ICO (Information Commissioners Office), who was the data controller. The GDPR, however, removed this requirement and replaced it with a requirement for all organisations that control data to pay a data protection fee. Even though there are exemptions when it comes to paying this fee, care homes aren’t exempted, mostly because of the nature of the data that they regularly process.

Changes to consent – probably the most reported change brought about by the introduction of GDPR is the premise consent. If there is one thing that is super clear in the new law is the importance of consent when sharing personal information. There are two types of giving consent – there is implied consent and explicit consent. Now, in the case of care homes, the GDPR law requires explicit consent to be given before any medical records are shared. And by explicit consent, we mean clearly stating the exact purpose for the processing and must ensure that the data subject understands and approves. The reason for this is the fact that care homes deal with special category data, which must be processed under various lawful basis, including processing data for the purposes of preventative medicine, management of social or health or social systems, or the provision of social or health care treatment. These bases are more suited to the home care sector, which is why they are pretty necessary to follow. Still, the law also recommends documenting the decision as well as the reasoning behind it.

Reporting of any data breach incidents – the new GDPR law also requires care home operators to immediately report any data breach incident to the ICO immediately they are aware of it, or within 72 hours from then. This applies to all incidents, especially the ones expected to have a negative effect on the rights and freedoms of the care patients. As for the minor incidences, they don’t have to be reported to the ICO, but they should be reported to the care home management, where they are thoroughly investigated and handled. Tracking and monitoring data breach incidents is very crucial in the care home sector, which is why it is super important for all the staff to be well-trained on the subject.

Accountability – as a matter of fact, accountability is what the new GDPR law was seeking to achieve, in that all the organisations handling personal data will have the responsibility of ensuring that it’s safe, and also will provide access to the data when required. One of the ways to ensure that you are complying with the principle of accountability is by ensuring that every time you are about to process data, you make sure that the patients and staff are appropriately informed on why and how the processing takes place. Also, you have to document everything to present as proof of compliance. This is something that every care home management should incorporate in their data protection framework. You can use accurate, friendly, and easy-to-understand notices, accessible guidance documents, clear and concise permission statements, as well as information leaflets to keep everyone informed. The GDPR law was pretty much designed to harmonise data protection while giving individuals greater control over how their data is used and processed. But it’s very important for the care home manager to have a good understanding of the data protection law, as it will not only protect them from regulatory action, but it will also engender trust in your patients, more so enhance the running of the care facility.

What GDPR means for the care sector?

When it comes to data protection under the new GDPR law, it is not just for care professionals, but applicable to all organisations that process clients’ personal data. And the financial penalties for non-compliance are the same across the board, where one will be required to pay $20 million, or 4% of the turnover – whichever is higher. Now, this is to tell you how crucial it is for the care professionals to not only be compliant with the regulation, but also to ensure that it is implemented properly. Just like in other sectors, patients now do have a lot more control over their data than ever before, which also means that even claims for breaches are far much easier. This comes down to ensuring that the data is properly stored, and for that to happen, the staff needs to be well-trained.

Training of the care professionals with regards to the new regulations is a major part of ensuring GDPR compliance, and will also enable them to undertake their roles effectively. This is not the first time care professionals have been required to protect their patients’ data. However, given the constant changes in privacy and the data protection regulation, it is very important that they continue to be trained in these aspects to add on their own professional development points.  

Also, if there is one thing that the regulation introduced in the care sector, is a better relationship between the service providers and the patients. Let’s face it, maintaining full GDPR compliance is quite challenging, and that means both the patients and the care professionals need to work closely together, which in turn leads to their relationship improving. This way, the patients are able to trust the care providers with their personal information, knowing that it will be safe and secure, and that they will be able to access the data whenever necessary.

Final word

Now, if you are running a care home and have not assessed how exactly you are going to comply with the GDPR regulation, this is something that you need to address immediately. Doing this will improve the relationship between the caregivers and the patients, and will also prevent you from financial penalties. Also, given that care homes deal with a special kind of data, complying with GDPR regulations is of utmost importance.

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