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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Just one in 750 patients invited to take part sign up to Government's online records programme

By Ian Quinn

A service set up to enable millions of patients to email their GPs and access their Summary Care Records online has proved to be unwanted by the vast majority of potential users, according to a major new study.

Academics from London found that instead of the 5-10% of the population that Connecting for Health predicted would sign up to the HealthSpace service, developed as part of the National Programme for IT, only 0.13% of those invited to take part got as far as activating the full functionality of their personal health record.

It was also predicted that patients would access use the HealthSpace service to access their Summary Care Records and notify their GP of errors, thereby driving up data quality in NHS medical records.

In fact, only 2,913 of 2.24 million patients invited to open an advanced HealthSpace account actually did so, and the research team did not find a single person who had accessed their Summary Care Record.

Research into trials of the service, published on bmj.com, comes as the Government promises an ‘information revolution' which will offer patients much more control over their records.

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, who led the research covering uptake of HealthSpace from its release in 2007 until mid-2010, concludes in the report: ‘Unless personal electronic health records align closely with people's attitudes, self-management practices, identified information needs and the wider care package, the risk that they will be abandoned or not adopted at all is substantial.'

She adds: ‘The findings raise questions about how eHealth programmes in England are developed and approved at policy level.'

Problems with HealthSpace uncovered by the researched included a complex registration process, a 'clunky' user interface and low levels of knowledge about, or interest in, the product from GPs and other healthcare staff.

HealthSpace's future is already under review by the Treasury, with the Government increasingly looking for patients' IT services to be developed by private providers.

Researchers said the recent emergence of rival products from commercial IT giants including Microsoft and Google raised serious questions about the place of a standard-issue personal health organiser from the NHS.

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'Healthspace gives patients access to their Summary Care Record online and enables secure communication between clinicians and patients.

'The UCL research has produced a historical snapshot, rather than insight into patients' needs and expectations. Healthspace continues to be developed in response to those aspirations and the commitment to give patients, as well as clinicians, access to their Summary Care Record.'

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh: report poses more questions over centrally run IT projects Professor Trisha Greenhalgh: report poses more questions over centrally run IT projects

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