Tories to let patients amend medical records online

Author: By Jane Merrick and Nina Lakhani

In a move which could be dubbed “Wiki-health”, a Tory government under David Cameron will allow people to access online health records, which are currently restricted. Patients would be prevented from changing key details, but could amend personal medical information.

In a move that could prompt fears of invasion of privacy, patients could also share their data with third parties, such as gyms, private clinics or weight-loss groups, and join online “communities” of people with the same condition or illness to swap experiences and receive support.

The Tories have vowed to scrap the controversial NHS IT system, which has already cost more than £12bn and whose completion is years behind schedule. Instead, electronic medical records would be handled by a private internet giant such as Microsoft or Google, which has links to one of Mr Cameron’s closest aides, Steve Hilton.

Some senior Tories, including the former shadow home secretary David Davis, expressed concern that Google would control private data. However, doctors’ leaders last night welcomed any move to empower patients and make records more interactive.

The plans are in a review of the way medical records are handled, commissioned by the shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien. He said: “Giving patients greater control over their health records is crucial if we are to make the NHS more patient-centred. Labour’s attitude to personal data is misguided. They seem to think they own it and, all too often, they have been appallingly careless in looking after it.

“The Government’s monolithic and costly IT system doesn’t involve patients at all. Yet in patients’ hands, health records could do so much more. We would have a clearer picture of our health and our care and we would be able to add information to help doctors treat us better. This could make a huge difference in helping us understand how to live healthier lifestyles.”

The information would be protected by usernames and passwords, similar to online bank accounts. A local record would be held by the patient’s GP. Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We 100 per cent support the principle of putting patients in more control of their health as long as the IT system used is flexible, safe, and cost-effective, and moves us more quickly towards e-health and e-consultations.

“There must be safeguards, however, to ensure vulnerable patients don’t come under pressure to release information to external agencies and also to ensure that information added by doctors cannot be deleted or edited without discussion. Apart from that, we support anything which helps patients take more control of their own health.”

Under the 1998 Data Protection Act, patients have the right to see their medical notes, but how easy it is to gain access depends on their GP or hospital. Access can still be restricted or even refused on the grounds that the information could be detrimental to a person’s health, something people with mental health problems have encountered disproportionately.

The system would mean patients with chronic conditions such as asthma or diabetes could record daily symptoms rather than try to recall anything significant in a 10-minute consultation.

France, Canada, the US, Germany and Austria have adopted IT schemes that include personal health records.

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