Implications for nursing and healthcare research of the general data protection regulation and retrospective reviews of patients’ data
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence & Practice    

Implications for nursing and healthcare research of the general data protection regulation and retrospective reviews of patients’ data

Neil Crowhurst Postgraduate research student, School of Health Sciences, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland
Michael Bergin Senior lecturer, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland
John Wells Head of the school, Health sciences, Waterford Institute of Technology, Waterford, Ireland

Background The European Union’s general data protection regulation (GDPR) came into effect in May 2018. It is intended to prevent the unwanted sharing of private data and it has significant implications for healthcare research. A well-established research methodology that GDPR is likely to affect is the retrospective reviewing of patients’ data. This has been used widely in healthcare research and commonly involves examining patients’ medical records.

Aim To examine GDPR and its potential effects on the use of patients’ data in healthcare research.

Discussion Previous misuse of patients’ data has affected public confidence in healthcare research. GDPR is intended to improve the public’s confidence in the handling of their data, but it may negatively impact healthcare research. Researchers who want to review patients’ data will need to consider consent issues carefully. GDPR does include exceptions to the rules of consent, but there is uncertainty about this process.

Conclusion If GDPR results in stricter requirements to achieve patients’ consent in research, the validity of some studies may be affected. Nurse researchers and organisations may need to consider innovative ways of engaging patients in research.

Implications for practice Research using patients’ data has played an important role in shaping nursing and healthcare policy and practice. Imminent Europe-wide changes prompted by GDPR could affect how patients’ data are used in research.

Nurse Researcher. 27, 1, 45-49. doi: 10.7748/nr.2019.e1639


Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and has been checked for plagiarism using automated software

Conflict of interest

None declared


To reuse this article or for information about reprints and permissions, please contact

Write for us

For information about writing for RCNi journals, contact

For author guidelines, go to

Want to read more?

Already have access? Log in


3-month trial offer for £5.25/month

Subscribe today and save 50% on your first three months
RCNi Plus users have full access to the following benefits:
  • Unlimited access to all 10 RCNi Journals
  • RCNi Learning featuring over 175 modules to easily earn CPD time
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Revalidation Portfolio to stay on track with your progress
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests
  • A customisable dashboard with over 200 topics

Alternatively, you can purchase access to this article for the next seven days. Buy now

Are you a student? Our student subscription has content especially for you.
Find out more