Guest Opinion: Busting the myths of access to records

The college is leading a programme to support online access by patients to transactional services and their medical records by 2015. By RCGP Chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada.

We were approached by the DH following recommendations made by the NHS Future Forum and in the government's Information Strategy. We accepted because we are the largest body representing GPs in the UK and can provide the leadership, training and support that practices and patients will need to create this significant culture change.

We are also ideally placed to bring together the numerous professional and patient groups, including the RCGP's patient participation group, to make this happen.

Patient online access to records and services presents us with great opportunities. As well as having secure communication channels, patients will be able to book appointments, request repeat prescriptions and view test results.

But there will be major implications for all. More than half of the practices in England have the capability to offer access to records and letters, but less than 1% do. Similarly, 73% of practices have the functionality for online booking and cancelling of appointments, but 25% do it. This demonstrates the scale of work needed to meet the 2015 target.

Led by Dr Imran Rafi, medical director of the college's Clinical Innovation and Research Centre, the project focuses on the practical steps needed for practices to deliver patient online access, within a safe and secure governance structure.

Critical issues such as information governance and safeguarding are being carefully considered, as are the implications for health inequalities and the protection of vulnerable individuals and groups.

The college is working in partnership with a broad cross-section of patient groups and professional organisations to achieve this.

A stakeholder group has been established to provide quality assurance for the project.

Seven working groups with specific remits have been set up, with participation from patients and professionals to address key priority areas. The working groups are expected to produce plans by the end of 2012. I'll keep you posted.

  • Professor Gerada is a GP in London

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