Research published in the London Journal of Primary Care suggested that giving patients online access to their GP record could reduce practice workload by allowing patients to view test results in their own time.
GPs have previously expressed concern that online access could drive up practice workload as a result of patients misunderstanding their record, causing them to make more phone calls to practices and arrange extra appointments.
But this study, the first to assess the impact of online access on practice workload in the UK, suggests it could benefit patients and practices.
Patients from two urban practices in Manchester participated in the study. Those who had used the record access service at least twice were asked to fill out a questionnaire, in which they detailed how many appointments and telephone calls the service had saved them in the last 12 months.
Across the two practices, the service led to 187 fewer clinical appointments, 87 of which would have been with a GP, and 290 fewer phone calls.
Extrapolating this data, the researchers estimated that in a 10,000-patient practice, where 30% of patients accessed their record at least twice a year, 4,747 appointments and 8,020 telephone calls a year could be saved.
Assuming a consultation rate of 5.3% a year, this could represent a reduction of around 11% of appointments per year, they found.
Patients reported that record access allowed them to check results, 'saving them' from having to make appointments or 'bothering' the practice.
The authors said: ‘We suggest that record access can be part of continuous practice improvement, given its benefits and the support it offers for patient confidence, self-care and shared decision-making.’
They also called for further 'full-scale' studies to be undertaken, 'using objective measures rather than self-reported data' to further understand the effects of record access.