Online consultations and access to records risky for patients, warns GPC

Plans to expand online or email GP consultations and allowing patients to access their GP records via the internet could put patients at risk, the GPC has warned.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul: plans to expand online access need more evaluation
Dr Chaand Nagpaul: plans to expand online access need more evaluation

GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said the committee was concerned about the government’s plans to increase the use of technology in the NHS.

As part of the new 'NHS mandate', the government has revealed plans to make e-consulting widespread, as well as allowing patients to view medical records, book appointments and order repeat prescriptions over the internet.

Dr Buckman said that while the GPC has no concerns regarding online prescription requests and appointment booking, it was concerned about the other potential uses of technology.

He said the GPC was particularly concerned about e-consulting – where doctors consult with patients via email.

‘The GMC doesn’t like this and the BMA’s position has for many years been that we refuse to take part in this, because it’s not encrypted.

‘It is open to impersonation. Nobody knows who is at both ends of these emails. You don’t know I am who I say I am and I don’t know you are who you say you are.’

Dr Buckman said that e-consultation could also increase GP workload and have a negative impact on patient outcomes.

'Much of my day is spent discovering things by accident that I have discovered because [the patient] is in the room with me, or I hear a turn of phrase that makes me think.

'Or they say: "While I am here can I just show you...". 'You don't get any of that by e-consulting,' Dr Buckman said.

The GPC is also concerned by government plans to give patients to access their medical records online. Dr Buckman said: ‘This is not the same as patients accessing their records in the surgery.

‘Online access means the patient can read what is there, but also so can anybody else. The risks are insurance companies, employers, police, lawyers and abusers of various sorts.’

Dr Buckman added: ‘We see this as a crucial issue for us to explain to the patients and the public; that what initially seems like a reasonable idea could be harmful.’

GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was disappointing that online records had been included in the NHS mandate ahead of an RCGP evaluation of the idea.

Dr Nagpaul said: ‘So in advance of actually allowing a conclusion of that assessment and evaluation, it is now in the mandate, which is disappointing.'

Dr Buckman said the GPC would express its concerns about online patient records to the RCGP.

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