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BMA issues warning over online access to patient records

Patients may face pressure to reveal confidential details to third parties

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The BMA has warned that plans to give patients online access to their GP records could harm patients, distort care and has the potential to compromise confidentiality.

BMA GPs committee chair Dr Laurence Buckman said abusive spouses, overbearing parents, insurance companies and employers could potentially put pressure on patients to reveal their confidential GP records.

Dr Buckman said GP leaders had warned the government in January and before the NHS mandate was unveiled last week that they had serious concerns about the scheme.

The mandate — the set of goals for the NHS Commissioning Board in England over the next two years — calls for online access to GP-held health records, online booking of GP appointments and repeat prescriptions, and more widely available e-consultations by 2015.

But Dr Buckman said that once patients had their records they could face pressure from third parties to reveal them, without the traditional gatekeeper protection of GPs holding such information.

He said: “I can imagine that there are plenty of parents who would try to get access to their teenaged children’s records to find out who’s had sex … or who is doing drugs, or any one of a number of things.”

Evidence shows from past attempts to create online records, such as HealthSpace, that patients were not very interested, he added.

GP negotiator Chaand Nagpaul said putting the goal in the NHS mandate meant it had “now become a political imperative with a deadline” even though the RCGP (Royal College of GPs) was still developing plans.

The Department of Health responded by saying that  enabling greater access to health records is one way of supporting people to become partners in decisions about their treatment, and better manage their health and care.

“However, this needs to be balanced with protecting confidentiality and security of information.”

The spokesperson added that an RCGP stakeholder group was developing plans with other medical royal colleges, patient groups, the BMA, the DH and the NHS Commissioning Board.

Dr Buckman said GP leaders and the GMC had concerns about plans for GP consultations by email. He said GPs would not be able to catch some of the discursive aspects so crucial to consultations. There was also a risk of people assuming other people’s identities, he added.

And he suggested that allowing patients to book appointments online could make it more likely for them to not turn up.

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