Giving patients access to their electronic health records and increasing the number of online services they can use are two key themes in the government’s consultation on a new information strategy for the NHS.
EMIS practices have been leaders in this field, and their experience gives a useful snapshot of the services that are most popular with patients.
As of 18 October 2010, 53.7% of GPs in the UK were using an EMIS system. All of them can offer patients access to their online record if they wish, alongside a wide range of transactional services such as online appointment booking and ordering repeat prescriptions.
To date, 1,985 EMIS practices have switched on the technology to deliver these online services, with the number increasing every month. Services that save patients time are proving particularly popular.
Demand for transactional services
Sean Riddell, chief executive of EMIS, said: “The big success story for us to date has been online ordering of repeat prescriptions through our EMIS Access portal. In the year to date, more than 1.6m prescriptions have been requested using the service – demonstrating the huge appetite that exists for this information.
“This service serves two purposes for patients. Firstly, it allows them to see up-to-date information about their current medication - one of the most important parts of the patient record - which helps them to make sure they are fully compliant with their treatment.
“Secondly, from a practical point of view, the service makes it quick and easy for people to order their repeat medication and keep on top of when their prescription is running out. This is a huge benefit for the busy working patient, the elderly and the housebound, or those with long-term conditions who are taking multiple medications.
“As well as providing an extremely convenient service for the patient, this online process is also saving time and money for GP practices, by reducing phone calls and administration.”
Online appointment-booking is another transactional service that is growing in popularity, with 93,000 appointments booked and 27,000 cancelled through EMIS Access in September 2010.
Records access a slower burn
The information strategy consultation document, ‘Liberating the NHS: an information revolution’ sees access to patient records as a vital development.
However, the experience of EMIS practices suggests that this aspect will be slower to take off. They have found that patients do not necessarily want access to their records per se – they want access for a specific purpose.
To date, 57 EMIS practices have activated secure online access to patient records using the Medical Record Viewer developed by EMIS in partnership with PAERS (Patient Access to Electronic Records Limited). In September 2010, there were 1,754 patient views of medical records.
Forward-thinking GPs such as Dr Amir Hannan from the Haughton Thornley Medical Centre in Hyde, Greater Manchester, are actively promoting the benefits of giving patients access to their records – including improved doctor-patient trust and better self-care.
The Royal College of GPs is also backing the move to open up patient records, recently releasing new guidance – based on the experience of Dr Hannan and others – on the practical and ethical issues involved.
The RCGP document concludes: “The emerging evidence is that health records can be safely shared with patients for the improvement of their care. Sharing records with patients has significant potential benefits for professionals and patients: for relationships, for understanding, for health outcomes and for safety.”
Sean Riddell added: “The technology already exists to give patients secure online access to their records, and Dr Hannan and his colleagues in the Records Access Collaborative have done some extremely valuable work to pave the way for greater uptake.
“I expect to see more and more of our practices enabling this service in the coming months and years following the government’s wholehearted support of the benefits.”