Study shows unexcepted consequences of allowing patients to view their health records

Unsettling information regarding people’s health has been uncovered after patients have been given access to their GP records, according to a new study. 

The National Institue for Health and Care Research have carried out a study with ARC West and the University of Bristol Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC), which has examined the effects of giving people access to their health records so they can be managed by policymakers and practitioners. 

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In 2019 the researchers interviewed 13 patients and 19 health workers across 10 practices with experience of patient online access to health records, in South-West and North-West England. 

Experts discovered providing access to health records has developed both positive and negative responses including making patients feel more in control of their health and increasing staff’s workloads. 

Published in 2019, the NHS set out their long-term plan which stated patients will have access to their health care records by 2023/24. However, the rollout of online access has been delayed, but from November users of the NHS app should have access to new additions to their record and by 2023 will be able to see summaries of any previous health conditions they have experienced. 

In some cases, however, the report found being able to view an individual’s health record can have negative consequences. This can include when patients discover surprising and distressing information or find their health information difficult to interpret.

As well as affecting patients, online access also has unfortunate consequences for general practices, including how GPs write their notes and adding to administrative workloads.  

Dr Andrew Turner, NIHR ARC West and Senior Research Associate in CAPC, said: ‘This research shows that there can be unintended consequences for patients and for staff when health records serve different purposes.

‘Giving patients online access to their health records can be of benefit to patients and is a sign of transparency in medicine, but it is important to share access in ways that maximise the positive benefits and minimise possible harms.’

Jeremy Horwood, of ARC West and Professor of Social Sciences and Applied Health Research in the CAPC said: ‘Implementation of online record access is more complex than the intended consequences set out in NHS policy.

‘To achieve intended consequences additional work is necessary to 1) prepare records for sharing and 2) prepare patients about what to expect from their records. It is vital that GP practices are adequately supported to be able to implement the roll out of patient access to medical records.’

Photo by National Cancer Institute


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