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Avoiding the risks of online access to records

Practices must ensure the confidentiality and accuracy of medical records that patients access online, says the MDU.

Under the 2015/16 GMS contract, practices are now contractually required to offer patients in England online access to summary information from their medical records. However, some practices may decide to give patients access to their full medical record.

In response to queries from its members, the MDU has produced guidance addressing common questions from GPs about giving patients access to records.

Dr Beverley Ward, MDU medico-legal adviser, says that practices need to consider how to allow patients to access information securely while also being sensitive to any information which may cause distress. 

She points out that there are likely to be more queries about the accuracy and contents of records once patients begin signing up for online access.

'For example, GPs may need to explain any abbreviations the records contain and will need to ensure test results are reviewed and discussed with the patient before they are uploaded to the online record,' Dr Ward explains.

Access to children's records

'Another area of concern is requests by parents to access children's records,' says Dr Ward. 'For children over 16, GPs should usually get their consent before granting access to someone with parental responsibility, but for under 16s the situation is more complicated.

'The RCGP suggests that full access for those with parental responsibility should be automatically switched off at age 11 and a discussion arranged with the child and parents to consider the extent of ongoing access. However, the age at which a child becomes competent will vary and it will be important to keep any access by parents under regular review.'

Key advice from the MDU

The MDU advises practices to consider the following:

  • How patients' ID will be verified and how the practice will record patients with online records access.
  • The need to educate patients about keeping their information or log in details secure and the implications if they share these details with others.
  • How practices will identify third party information which will need to be withheld.
  • When to allow access to a child's records by someone with parental responsibility.
  • The need to avoid the use of abbreviations that patients may not understand.
  • The importance of giving patients the opportunity to correct inaccurate or incomplete records, but not amend content simply because they find it upsetting. 

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