Dr Maureen Baker: Patient Online means a dramatic shift

Giving patients access to their electronic records is back in the news and by 30 March 2015, all practices will have to offer some form of online access.

This ranges from electronic appointments and repeat prescriptions, to providing access to the electronic record itself.

Many GPs have valid concerns about this aspect of creating greater transparency. But the proposed system - known as Patient Online - is actually an extension of what is already available to patients. They can already request their records and many practices are offering them access.

While online access is now a requirement of the GP contract, surgeries should not feel pressured to deliver all aspects of Patient Online immediately - individual practices have the freedom to work at their own pace and learn from the experience of similar practices across the country, as long as they meet the basic contractual requirements.

It might sound daunting, but greater use of technology is inevitable and it plays a significant part in the RCGP's strategy document, The 2022 GP: A Vision for General Practice in the future NHS.

That said, Patient Online will mean a dramatic culture shift for some practices and the RCGP thinks it is important to support practices in making it happen. Last year, we produced Patient Online: the Roadmap, outlining the steps practices need to take to deliver patient online access, within a safe and secure governance structure.

We are now developing resources to help GPs and practice staff understand what Patient Online will mean for them, and what they can do to make online access a beneficial process for them and for their patients.

We have launched an online portal (elearning.rcgp.org.uk/patientonline), which will act as an evolving hub of information. It offers guidance that can be adapted to the needs of individual practices, and links to other useful information.

By the end of the year, we aim to offer e-learning courses to address practice staff concerns about identity verification and coercion, among other matters. There will also be guidance on how to set up online appointments and repeat prescriptions, suggestions on how to encourage appropriate patient take-up, and an overview of patient consent and responsibility.

Patients want this and it will enable them to have more responsibility and control over their care. In the long-term, it might even help to ease the administrative pressures on general practice.

  • Dr Baker is a GP in Lincoln.

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