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Letter of the week: Web access takes records into the 21st century

Bloodletting finally stopped a few hundred years ago. Writing in Latin stopped a hundred years ago. Women became doctors about 80 years ago. Come on chaps, we are in the 21st century, let’s move on.

Patients given access to full GP record by 2015

Studies from the 1990s show that 50% of patients completely understood their notes and 75% understood most of their notes.

There is evidence that patients have brains and can and do think for themselves. They give themselves insulin and other potentially dangerous drugs, and use inhalers, nebulisers and so on.

Many doctors, nurses, and health administrators are patients. They would all benefit from access to good-quality information about their health and diseases at different times of the day and night and across different locations – while on holiday or travelling, or if they emigrate. Patients with access to the 70 years of data in the unique GP record may and do navigate their record wherever they go in the NHS or elsewhere. It is a unique system envied worldwide.

Most errors and accidents that occur in practice occur because of missing information. Our patients with record access correct these without moaning and are grateful to have the opportunity to do so. What are GPs doing to quality-assure their records?

The Data Protection Act requires records to be accurate and up to date. Some 30% of patients given their records in a trial in our practice found errors. Other studies have shown the same.

Some 400 patients in the practice where I work have access to their records. A recent survey of patients who regularly use record access showed that they took up considerably fewer GP, practice nurse and healthcare assistant appointments at the practice and made three fewer phone calls a year. We worked out the savings as £54,000 a year in professional time if 30% of patients used record access. These figures were more impressive still at another local practice.

GPs do not make all of the information about their prescriptions and medical details available out of hours, at weekends and on bank holidays. There is no evidence that patients only become ill within GP hours.

Patients who have access to their medical records can navigate their way through services out of hours or when away from the practice.

Is this not the first duty of care of a doctor – ‘the best care of the patient’?

From Dr Richard Fitton

Glossop, Derbyshire