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Patients ‘unrealistic’ about online records

13 May 2013

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Patients have unrealistic expectations of what an online medical record will be, doctors fear. 

A report from the Medical Protection Society (MPS) found 87% of doctors think introducing online records will lead to more demanding patients.  

One of the biggest issues highlighted in the report is the disparity between the services that patients expect they will receive through online access to their records and what doctors think is realistic in the immediate term.

Dr Stephanie Bown, director of Policy and Communications at MPS says: “We support online access to medical records as a way of helping patients increase their knowledge and understanding, promote autonomy and enhance the doctor-patient relationship. 

“However, there are risks that need to be addressed and the current rhetoric does not reflect what is practical and realistic.”

Patients can be more involved in their care, and able to identify mistakes, Bown believes. 

The MPS report, which used interviews with GPs and the public showed 25% of patients who already access their records do so to check the accuracy. 

Around 40% of the public who would like to be able to make changes to their medical records would like to do so regardless of whether their GP approves of them or not, whilst only 7.5% of doctors would want patients to make changes, without their approval. 

More than 25% of the public agree that they should be able to request that their entire medical record is deleted. 

Bown said: “There is a common understanding as to what medical records are for and patient and doctors need supporting to develop a collaborative approach to amending medical records to achieve this purpose.” 

Over half (54%) of the public would expect a response to an email for “routine support” within a day, compared to only 14% of doctors. This stark difference suggests that what the public expects is at odds with what the doctor think is realistic.


MPS claim there may also be issues around: 

  • Security Both doctors and the public are concerned for the security of medical records if they become accessible online. We ask for greater patient awareness about how they can protect their own data.
  • Purpose of record There is a common understanding that the main purpose of medical records is to give the doctor an overview of the patientâ•˙s medical treatments; however, there is a difference in opinion in how they should be written, with 75% of the public agreeing that medical records should be written in simple language. Doctors and patients need to reach an understanding that doctors need to continue to use medical terminology to allow effective communication between doctors, and patients need tools to help them make sense of records.
  • Vulnerable people Around 5.2 million households do not have internet access, which may affect some groups most likely to benefit from online access such as very elderly and chronically sick. Steps need to be taken to ensure that vulnerable individuals and groups have their interests protected and that information available online will always be available in other formats where necessary.
  • Sensitive information There is a case for special restrictions to be placed on parts of a person’s medical record, or on certain categories of information for all patients. For example, particularly sensitive information, such as mental health, sexual health, child protection and counselling, could be restricted by default on an online record.