Electronic access to records will see GPs 'working happier, but harder'

Having online access to GP records will empower patients and improve quality of care, but cause heavy GP workloads to rise further, warns a GP whose practice has allowed patients to access records for over eight years.

Online access to patient records could raise workload

Speaking at The King's Fund’s Realising the Potential of Primary Care event, Dr Amir Hannan, patient empowerment lead from Tameside and Glossop CCG, said allowing patients to access their records had the potential to ‘transform healthcare’.

But he warned that making records available ‘was not going to be easy’, and GPs should expect their workload to get ‘a lot harder’ as a result.

To date, Dr Hannan’s practice, the Haughton Thornley Medical Centres in Hyde, has enabled over 3,200 patients - 28% of its total patient population - to have electronic access to their GP record.

Adding to GP workload

Studies have previously made claims that online record access could reduce practice workloads by cutting down on appointments and the number of phone calls made to practices.

But although GPs would spend less time dealing with the paients who do sign up, Dr Hannan warned that this gap would soon be filled due to demand from the remaining patients at the practice.

He said: ‘For every one patient who chooses not to ring up because they have record access, the burning platform that we’re on is such that the other 70% that aren’t accessing their records are just completely taking over.’

Tip of the iceberg

He described an ‘iceberg' effect being responsible for the spike in demand. ‘What you can see above is what we’re dealing with, what you don’t see is what's below.

‘The minute you switch on online services, it enables patients to access services even more, so demand will actually rise further. And the reason for that is because of unmet need. We will start to pick up people much sooner than we otherwise would have done.’

Ingrid Brindle, a patient at the Haughton Thornley Medical Centres, has had online access to her record for over eight years. She said having access to her record was ‘invaluable’ and allowed her and her GP to work together as a ‘team’.

‘The amount of time I don’t have to contact the practice is incredible,’ she told GPs at the King’s Fund event. ‘I really don’t understand why so little progress has been made. Empowering patients and giving them control over their situation so that they understand when they're making their health choices, to me it’s a no-brainer.’

Better understanding with patients

Dr Hannan said these benefits to patient care and the working relationship between GPs and patients far outweighed the negatives of increased workload.

‘We’re doing this because we’ve come into healthcare to make a difference,’ he said. ‘If that means we have to work a little bit harder, then fair enough. My job is much more enjoyable because patients are coming to me with a better understanding of their health. They are valuing my time much more and I am valuing their time much more.’

Jeremy Hunt has set out plans for 95% of patients in England to have access to records by April 2015, although recent figures have shown just 3% of practices have made the switch so far.

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