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GPs face email ‘deluge’ under Government IT plans

By Ian Quinn

GPs face being be ‘deluged' with emails if the Government presses ahead with plans for e-mail consultations, the BMA has warned.

In it official response to the Government's 'Information Revolution' consultation, the association urges the Department of Health to embark on widespread further piloting before opening up new channels.

The BMA also warns patients may unwittingly be exposed to ‘significant risks' over their confidential information if the Government presses ahead with plans to give them greater control over sharing their records.

The response also calls on the DH to abandon plans to develop the so-called HealthSpace technology, which would allow patients to self manage their conditions, until there is evidence that patients actually want it.

On the subject of email consultations, the response says: ‘There are disadvantages in electronic communication,' says the response. ‘The breadth of spoken word cannot be encompassed when communicating electronically and it can be easy to misinterpret meaning.

‘The absence of non-verbal communication may also lead to missed clues. Health issues which can be picked up when seeing and examining a patient may be missed with electronic communication so legal liability needs to be thought through. A deluge of communication may divert clinicians' time away from seeing patients.'

Security fears are also raised with plans for GPs to decide who has access to their records: ‘Whilst the BMA has supported patients having greater control over elements of their records, we believe that there are quite significant risks in allowing patients to control the sharing of health records,' it says.

The BMA also flags up a recent UCL report which said it was time to think again about plans for HealthSpace which was ‘built on the assumption that a significant proportion of patients will have the motivation and capacity to ‘self manage' their long term condition using this technology.'

‘At this time of financial restraint, there should only be investment in this area if an evaluation provides evidence of patient demand and clear benefits,' say the BMA.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP and member of the BMA's Working Party on IT, said: ‘Improving NHS IT while the NHS is under huge financial pressure will be extremely challenging.

‘While the principle of patients controlling aspects of their records is a good one, there must be safeguards to reduce the risks involved in sharing such sensitive data.

‘Even if a patient validly decides to share part of their records, for example via an online support forum, they will effectively lose control once posting it.'

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