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RCGP urges GPs to give patients greater access to electronic records

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: GPs must begin offering patients hugely extended access to their electronic health records, urges RCGP guidance laying the foundations for the Government's ‘information revolution'.

It calls on GPs to allow patients electronic access – in most cases for the first time – to information about their medical history, test results and even speculation about potential diagnoses.

The guidance admits to nervousness among GPs over online access, but insists there are significant benefits that could even include reductions in consultation time: ‘The emerging evidence is that health records can be safely shared with potential benefits for relationships, health outcomes and safety.'

Under the Data Protection Act patients have the right to access records, unless there is a risk of ‘serious harm' or identifying a third party, but few are aware of their rights.

The RCGP is to launch a separate paper encouraging patients to demand access, after health secretary Andrew Lansley promised to ‘unleash an information revolution', based on the principal of ‘no decision about me without me'.

The guidance has been drawn up after three years of research funded by Connecting for Health, which hopes to persuade the Treasury to bankroll expansion of its Healthspace site for patients.

But Pulse has learned that the Department of Health, which is backing the new guidance, is also exploring alternative plans for independent technology providers, led by IT company Emis.

Dr Brian Fisher, a GP in Lewisham and one of the authors of the guidance, insisted GPs' nervousness over online access was unfounded: ‘GPs worry about an increase in complaints from patients who see something they don't like. They worry about it taking up time. But our experience is record access might actually save appointments and increase self care.'

Dr Fisher, who is co-director of software company Paers, said he had been working closely closely with the Government over the new advice.

Sean Riddell, chief executive of Emis Group, said: ‘More than 50% of GP practices are now able to offer secure online access to medical records through their EMIS system.

‘In the year to date, there have been 1.5 million patient views of their medications using the service – demonstrating the huge appetite that exists.'

RCGP urges GPs to give patients greater access to electronic records EHR screen shots What the new system looks like

Click here to view screenshots from the new EMIS system.

Sharing tests results and speculation with patients

- The RCGP guidance includes potentially highly controversial details about how GPs share test results and potential diagnosis with patients.
- It says whenever possible appropriately trained staff should be available to interpret results and patients should be forewarned if the results are likely to be ‘frightening of difficult to interpret'.
- 'Results with serious implications (including results that could be falsely reassuring) should be communicated by the health professional before the patient can read the result through record access.'
-As for including speculation in communication with patients, it urges GPs to make sure the likelihood of outcomes and timescales of illness are explained fully.
- An example reads: ‘It is more than likely that you have X but I need to record all possibilities in your record, so do not be alarmed that I have entered Y.'

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