UK pledges digital health records for all by 2018

In four years’ time, everyone in the UK will be able to access their health records “at the touch of a button,” says the government.

Before the end of next year, online access to GP records should be available to all, and by 2018 this should extend to include records held by “hospitals, community, mental health and social care services,” according to the Department of Health (DH).

The aim is to provide details of “every visit to the GP and hospital, every prescription, test results, and adverse reactions and allergies to drugs,” it says, adding that under the plans patients will also be able to record their preferences and thoughts alongside official medical notes.

A joined-up, digital system will improve efficiency in the NHS and contribute to the £22 billion in efficiency savings laid out in the NHS Five Year Forward View, according to the National Information Board (NIB), which prepared the framework document.

Aside from access to records, patients will also be able to authorise records to be shared with other healthcare practitioners, so they will “only have to tell their story once.”

The NIB also details other initiatives such as the introduction of a kitemark for trusted health apps – due in 2015 – and the introduction in 2016 of a digital version of the ‘red book’ issued to all new mothers.

Called Personalised Health and Care 2020: a framework for action, the document lays out the NIB’s thinking on how to help patients make the right choices in healthcare, allow NHS staff to access a higher level and quality of information, and make the quality of are more transparent.

It also tackles the importance of building and sustaining public trust, encouraging the adoption of new innovative treatments and making sure that taxpayers’ money is well spent.

The digitisation of health information does raise issues relating to patient confidentiality and data security, and in February the rollout of the programme to link hospital and GP data was delayed in order to tackle those concerns.

The new document promises to strengthen governance of the use of personal data and reiterates that will be extended nationally.

“We have a financial challenge with the NHS as we grapple with an aging population,” commented Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt. Just a few days ago, a National Audit Office (NAO) report concluded that NHS and foundation trusts are experiencing growing financial stress and are increasingly reliant on emergency cash from the DH.

“This document is so important, because it marries the real importance of financial sustainability with actually making things better for patients,” continued Hunt, giving the example of a vulnerable, elderly person who would be able to Skype their GP rather than having to leave their home.

Later this financial year the NIB will publish a set of ‘roadmaps’, laying out in greater detail its plans to transform digital care, as well as an evidence base to show how the adoption of digital technologies in health improves patient outcomes and the value of services. It will also seek feedback from stakeholders on the proposals.

“We must embrace modern technology to help us lead healthier lives, and if we want – to take more control when are ill,” said Tim Kelsey, National Informatics Director.

“Our ambition is to make the NHS a digital pioneer for our patients and citizens.”

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