29 March 2011
Q. Can you advise me about the Data Protection Act as it applies to collecting our patients’ email addresses? I would like to offer a prize draw for all e-mail addresses that are collected within a five-week period so that I can send a newsletter with promotional offers.
Under the Data Protection Act 1998 you need to explain to the individuals concerned why data is being collected and for what purpose it is being used. As such, you need to think whether or not your patients are likely to reasonably expect you to use their personal data for anything other than contacting them in relation to appointments etc. Individuals should then be able to choose whether or not they are happy for their email address to be used in this way. At the time of collection you would need to make this information abundantly clear to them.
Many people get very upset about receiving what they consider to be “junk email”. Consequently, if they are made aware of your intentions it could be that an avoidable complaint is raised. In addition, you should also make it clear that you do not intend to disclose this information to a third party without their consent. Even though the practice probably has no intention of doing this, such a statement can be very reassuring for patients.
The idea of entry into a prize draw in exchange for an email address, might well appeal to some, it may not appeal to everyone. In reality, the most practical way to collect such information is simply to ask the patient at the time they attend, or when booking a follow up appointment. At that stage, the dental team can explain to the patient why the practice is collecting their email addresses and ask them if they would like to be included in the database. A form then could be prepared for the patient to fill in which clearly indicates the purpose for which the information will be put to. Most patients will not object to a direct question from a receptionist, and often will be more than happy to assist.
The Information Commissioner’s website has more information on this subject here