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Using electronic health records in the UK

Getting NHS patients to manage their health online

Electronic health records - NHSAs announced in a statement from its Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in 2010, the UK's government wants the country to be online, and over time we've seen a number of important public-facing services create web portals to manage most aspects of our interaction with them.

The Direct.gov.uk website is a perfect example of this, with its portfolio of services designed to save time and money from the public purse.

Consider how much of your own life is managed online for your convenience these days and there's little to dislike. Online banking, insurance, holiday and leisure services; it's all within easy reach. Yet now in a bigger step forward, we could all soon be managing doctor appointments and prescriptions online thanks to the latest government initiatives.

We know how active e-patients are, so this change would initially appear to be well-matched to their needs. Indeed, the default transaction post diagnosis for most patients is to search their condition online for further information, and afterwards, their engagement in online media continues to grow.

The idea isn't very new and has been driven by organisations such as Record Access Collaborative, which combines a number of groups to raise awareness of online patient records. Backing them is EMIS, one of the largest IT suppliers in this field and one affiliated to Patient.co.uk for accessing GP surgery data.

The NHS has already made a large commitment in this space, with their NHS Care Records website, and a promise that all patients could access their data online by 2015.

While patient data isn't directly available to users just yet, access to your record is allowed, albeit for a small charge. The next step in this process will be to allow patients to sign up to access the data directly, and then beyond this, it is anticipated that we'll begin to administer our own records.

It's likely of course that not all aspects of a patient's record would be editable. Certain data, most likely provided by healthcare professionals, will be fixed and not subject to change by a patient. This could be results from tests, advice given about a healthcare issue, or history of visits to their GP.

The challenge in delivering this remains immense, which explains why the government has given the task to PCTs directly. This has the advantage of creating smaller, cheaper and therefore easier to deliver projects to put patient data online, but the disadvantage is that the quality, reliability and security of these systems will vary by PCT. A national, joined-up project would no doubt attract a substantial cost, which is why the local approach is likely to become more successful.

We do know that the full timetable for the government's plan will arrive in September 2012. There's little doubt that this is best way forward for individuals to manage their healthcare delivery with the NHS, but in the current austere times, its scope and delivery remains in question.

Ben Wagenaar - Open Health
The Author

Ben Wagenaar is partner and head of digital strategy at OPEN Health

2nd April 2012

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