The government's deadline for all patients to have online access to their healthcare records is only two years away, but just 4% of GPs say that their practice currently provides this functionality to patients, according to a new survey.

The poll was conducted among more than 1,000 GPs nationwide by for eHealth Insider (EHI), the healthcare IT news, analysis and events firm. 43% of GPs told the poll that their practices had yet to address the issue, and this raises concern over one of the government's flagship NHS IT pledges, says

15% of respondents told the survey that they had a long way to go before their IT system would be ready, while 24% said they did not know whether their system allowed patients to access their records online. A further 5% of the GPs said their IT system was ready but not live yet, while 9% said it was "nearly ready."

Some pioneering GPs have found that opening up records to patients can deliver benefits, for example by enabling them to correct errors, avoid repeating their medical history many times and get more involved in their own care. However, others have yet to be convinced.

Only 49% of the GPs surveyed thought that providing patients with online access to their general practice-held records would be useful, while 27% agreed with the deadline of 2015 which the government has imposed to implement the system.

The survey also asked GPs about their use of email for consultations and about their use of Twitter and Facebook to interact with patients. It found very little enthusiasm for email consultations, with 79% of respondents saying they had never tried them and 58% reporting that they had never interacted with their patients via social media.

"The promise that patients should have online access to the GP-held records by 2015 was a central commitment in the NHS IT strategy. However, this survey shows that many GPs have yet to start working on the systems they will need to put in place to make the pledge a reality," commented EHI editor Jon Hoeksma.

"IT is not the problem. The majority of GP systems in the UK can support patient access, or will do so shortly. Instead, more GPs need to be convinced that the government's promise is worth delivering," he added. chief executive Dr Tim Ringrose pointed out that giving patients more control over their healthcare by enabling them to access their GP records online could bring significant benefits to the individual and NHS alike. However, it does represent "a huge cultural shift" for doctors.

"Our survey suggests that many doctors have yet to be convinced of the merits of this system and this may explain why few practices are ready to embrace it. As the UK's largest and most active network of doctors, we will be advising and supporting GPs as they work towards this key government objective," said Dr Ringrose.