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Personal health record project fails to impress

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

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Only a fraction of patients have signed up to a national personal health record project, according to the study published online today by the BMJ.

HealthSpace, the internet-accessible personal health organiser developed as part of the National Programme for IT in the NHS, has proved to be significantly less popular than anticipated.

A research team from the University of London has found that instead of the predicted 5-10% of the population signing up, only 0.13% of those invited got as far as activating the full functionality of their personal health record under the scheme.

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh from Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry led the team and was joined by researchers from University College London and Raft Consulting.

They studied the uptake of HealthSpace from its release in 2007 until mid-2010.

The personal health record features include:

  • the facility to enter and store health data such as blood pressure or weight
  • a calendar to store health appointments
  • email-style communication with the person’s GP
  • the ability to access their summary care record, the centrally stored summary of key medical details drawn from a person’s GP record.

Although HealthSpace is free, users have to register for a basic account (online) or an advanced account (in person) at a front office run by their local PCT.

The researchers said that early business plans anticipated that between 5 and 10% of the over-16 population would become HealthSpace users.

It was also predicted that patients would access their summary care records and notify their GP of errors, which would improve the quality of data in NHS medical records.

The researchers, however, found that only 2,913 people (0.13% of those invited to open an advanced HealthSpace account) actually did so, and no one had accessed their summary care record.

Problems with the system included a complex registration process, a “clunky” user interface (some aspects of which have been upgraded since the research was undertaken), the need for a person to enter a lot of the data themselves, limited functionality, and the low levels of knowledge about, or interest in, the product from healthcare staff.

The authors concluded: “Unless personal electronic health records align closely with people’s attitudes, self management practices, identified information needs, and the wider care package (including organisational routines and incentive structures for clinicians), the risk that they will be abandoned or not adopted at all is substantial.

“The findings raise questions about how eHealth programmes in England are developed and approved at policy level.”

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