In Brief

Hunt: new plans for patients to access their GP records via smartphone

Health Secretary wants one in four smartphone users to be able to link up directly with the NHS by 2017

A doctor

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wants people to be given full access to their medical records with their smartphones by the end of the next financial year.

His target is for one in four smartphone users to be able to access the NHS in some form by April 2017, says The Independent.

Hunt also said patients should be able to use activity monitoring devices such as the Fitbit, a bracelet which counts steps and connects with a smartphone, to send information about their health to their GPs.

The health secretary said all NHS patients would be able to view their entire medical records online – not necessarily with a smartphone – by 2018. GP records, including appointments and blood tests, will be available by next year.

Empowering patients in this way would encourage them to take responsibility for their health and lifestyles, said Hunt, and would break the old paradigm of a powerful doctor instructing a suffering patient.

He told the NHS England's annual conference in Manchester on Tuesday: "The evidence from all over the world is that when patients start to access their medical records, they start to think about their health care in a different way.

"When you have shared access to a medical record, it becomes a shared endeavour, a shared responsibility, and the world's most powerful patients become the world's healthiest patients."

But The Guardian says doctors' groups have concerns about the health secretary's plans, as well as worries about confidentiality and patient safety. The British Medical Association (BMA) fears vulnerable patients with abusive partners could be coerced into revealing their medical secrets.

Other doctors expressed concern that the notes they write in patients' files would now be revealed. For example, a doctor might have recorded that a smoker was at risk of cancer but had chosen not to tell the patient.

There are also worries that avaricious private companies might try to get hold of the data contained in medical records in order to sell drugs to patients, or otherwise exploit them.

As for the Fitbit plan, the Royal College of GPs warned that doctors are already overburdened with work and would not have time to analyse extra data sent to them by patients wearing the device.

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