UK patients will be able access their own electronic medical records and a raft of other digital healthcare applications within 12 months, under plans to embed a technology revolution throughout the NHS. 

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said this week he wants a quarter of smartphone users, which equates to around 15% of all NHS patients, routinely accessing health service advice, services and medical records through apps by the end of the next financial year.

He also said by 2016 all patients should be able to access their own GP electronic record online in full as well as contribute to it, either with personal comments or transferring data direct from wearable devices. 

By 2018 this record will also include information from all patients’ health and care interactions, providing current, potentially life-saving information to healthcare professionals at a touch of button, and by 2020 information from the social care system is also to be included.

“Experience from other countries suggests that opening up access to your own medical record leads to a profound change in culture in a way that is transformative for people with complex or long term conditions,” Hunt said.

‘Game-changing’ opportunity

In the UK, 84% of the population use the internet, 59% use a smartphone but only 2% have had any digital interaction with the NHS. “As the internet drives forward the next wave of innovation, all over the world healthcare still seems to be at the back of the queue,” he noted, stressing the opportunity to boost outcomes for patients by making the most of technology on offer.

Also, barcodes to identify patients, equipment and medicines will be introduced throughout the NHS, in the drive to eradicate the system’s reliance on paper and cut down on errors, while the National Information Board is currently looking at the feasibility of turning the entire NHS estate into a free Wi-Fi zone.

However, privacy remains a grave concern, and conceding that public trust in the NHS to securely handle its data remains weak, the Health Secretary promised new measures to assure the security of confidential medical information. 

This includes a review of standards of data security across the NHS, with a view to developing clear guidelines for the protection of personal data “against which every NHS and care organisation will be held to account”.