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Email-your-GP website to sign up 4 million users

By Steve Nowottny

An NHS website designed to offer patients email access to their GPs is set to have more than four million users within five years, a new report reveals.

The Connecting for Health paper sets out for the first time the scale of the plans for the Healthspace site, which is set to transform the way patients consult with doctors.

The site promises to allow patients to be managed ‘independent of surgery times' with GPs expected to use it for chronic disease reviews and medication advice.

Patients will be able to add notes to their Summary Care Record through the site – and even submit digital photos to allow ailments such as ulcers to be monitored.

Healthspace, which will also allow patients to view their care record, book GP appointments and keep a personal health organiser, has so far attracted just a few hundred full users.

But the report published last week by Connecting for Health, which runs the site, anticipates exponential take-up when new features are added, particularly among commuters and patients with long-term conditions.

Pilots of the Communicator function, which Pulse revealed last November will allow selected Healthspace users direct email access to their GP for consultations not requiring face-to-face contact, get underway next month.

A north London practice and one in Bury already using the care record are expected to be first to trial the scheme, alongside patients with diabetes in Sheffield and Salford.

Dr Gillian Braunold, clinical director for the Summary Care Record and Healthspace, said: ‘Take-up is limited at the moment because there's not much there. Healthspace really comes into its own as it becomes dynamic.'

The report describes the estimate of four million users as ‘conservative' and suggests interest could be much higher, pointing out 15.4 million patients in England have long-term conditions.

However, grassroots GPs remain divided over the plans, which some believe will unrealistically ramp up patients' expectations.

Dr Mohan George, a GP in Seaham in Country Durham, warned consultations by email and telephone could take just as long as those conducted face-to-face.

He added: ‘How does anyone know who is asking the questions? Individuals like spouses have access to the codes and may have ulterior motives.'

But Dr Afsar Rizvi, a GP in Crawley, West Sussex, backed the idea: ‘It would mean dealing with one complaint at a time rather than patients barraging a GP with four in a 10-minute consultation.'

Dr Gillian Braunold, clinical director for the Summary Care Record and Healthspace Dr Gillian Braunold, clinical director for the Summary Care Record and Healthspace Healthspace Services

- the Communicator tool will give invited patients secure email access with their GP and enable them to submit and track requests for repeat prescriptions
- patients will be able to use functionality provided by existing GP systems to view and book GP appointments
- patients will be able to view - and even add notes to - their Summary Care Record
- they will also be able to see letters and test results in their account, alongside an explanation from a clinician
- the site also includes a personal health organiser which will allow users to add self-monitored results and information on self-prescribed medication

Healthspace, the website allowing patients to email their GP, will have at least 4 million users within 5 years

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