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A Guide to Managing Online Access to Patient Records

Online access to patient records is the way forward for GP practices looking to involve patients in their own health and wellness management. There are many benefits to offering this service to patients, many of whom have, in the 24/7 age, come to expect this level of access.

Most GP practices receive countless requests from patients wanting to view their records. Consultations of this nature can last up to 30 minutes, adding up to several hours of GP time every week.

But with health records access opened up online, there is no longer a need for patients to attend the practice. Instead, they can peruse their records any time they wish, at their convenience. Not only does this save the patients valuable time, it also frees up appointment slots for other patients.

e have previously looked at how there is a significant increase in patients using online GP services, and how online patient records access has brought numerous benefits to the GP practice.

The benefits of online patient records access

For example when patients have full online access to their health records, it has the effect of increasing their engagement in their care. As patients become more aware of their conditions and better informed before discussing things with their GP, the quality of the interaction is enhanced, and decision-making between patients and the professionals who are caring for them is much more easily shared.

What’s more, when patients see their health information set out clearly in front of them, it encourages them to take control and improve their self-care. Even better, being in a position to read the notes made by a GP is helpful, because it is not always possible to recall everything that was discussed during a consultation.

In addition, with patient records available online, it is a great deal more straightforward to share information with other healthcare providers, making transfers between different points of care a lot more streamlined.

So, those are the benefits of making patient records available online. But how to go about introducing online records access to your patients?

How best to manage the introduction of online records access?

It is important when opening up access to patient records online to have a plan in place. The entire practice staff will need to be aware of how the process works so that procedures are followed and the correct information can be given to patients.

Let’s take a look at some helpful advice and suggestions along these lines.

Train the team

Before access is opened up on any scale, it is vital to train your entire practice team.

Start by educating those involved in creating the records in the first place. They will need to bear in mind that the notes they are making will be viewable by the patient. 

They will therefore need to be mindful as to the impact the records may have on the patients who are reading them. The use of abbreviations that only medical professionals understand will need to be outlawed, and staff will need to be trained around the subjects of data accuracy and data security. We’ll look at these in more detail a bit further on.

Introduce access gradually

It is a good idea to introduce online records access slowly, rather than go all out and open up access to all in one go. If you have patients who regularly request access to their files, it could be a good idea to focus on them first as a test sample. That way you can monitor any issues arising or any feedback provided by both staff and patients on a smaller, manageable scale and iron out any teething problems before introducing the access on a larger scale.

Decide what to make available

Data protection law governs the rights of patients to seek access to their medical records. Practices are required to promote and offer registered patients online access to all coded data in their GP records. This is known as their ‘detailed coded record’. An exception can be made where a record contains data that the GP feels could be seriously harmful to the patient’s physical or mental health if they were to see it, or if there is confidential information included about a third party other than healthcare professionals involved in the patient’s care, or a party who has consented to the disclosure.

Some records will have been created before online access was switched on for individual patients. In such cases, these records must be checked thoroughly before being made available online.

Consider data security

If you already offer other online services to patients, such as repeat prescriptions and appointment booking, then you will have provided them with login IDs and passwords. This will need to be extended to cover records access.

Model forms and leaflets have been produced by NHS England and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) which can be provided to patients as guidance. Practices should maintain a register of patients to whom they have provided access, detailing any limitations placed on it. It is also essential to inform patients of their own responsibilities around data security, i.e. keeping their login details secure and the risks involved in sharing information.

Anyone requesting access to online records on a patient’s behalf must be asked for evidence of their authority to act for the patient. This could come in the form of a patient’s written consent, or a legal authority such as a Lasting Power of Attorney.

Set procedures for correcting, changing and explaining records

The responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of patients’ records lies with the GP. Procedures should be in place for patients to easily report any factual inaccuracies, or to question any elements of their records.

It should be impossible for patients to make any alterations to the content of their own records, and any corrections will need the agreement of the GP, with notes made on who made the correct and when. In situations where a patient disagrees with the content of their record but their GP feels it is correct, a note can be made of the patient’s disagreement.

It is essential that patients can understand their records. Patient contact will be reduced in the long run only if patients understand their health conditions in detail. Therefore, have procedures in place to make the patient feel at ease in contacting the practice for clarification; never use abbreviations or acronyms that no one outside the medical profession will understand, and use plenty of detail when explaining treatments and diagnoses.

Start registering patients for online access

To help you get started, NHS England has published a Patient Online guide including useful resources to provide to patients.

If you would like to learn more about integrating patient records access into your website, or are interested to discover what’s involved in setting up a new GP website for your practice or federation, why not speak to the specialists at Tree View Designs? Our wide ranging knowledge of NHS processes and long term experience working at the heart of the NHS means we can provide you with the highest levels of expertise.