Q: I want to look at my medical records, but my GP surgery seems reluctant to let me. Can they stop me from seeing them?
A: No. The Data Protection Act 1998 means that everyone is entitled to see their medical records, according to the Patients Association patient’s guide (patients-association.com, tel: 0845 608 4455).
Your records consist of all information relating to your physical or mental health recorded by healthcare professionals, including GP s, hospitals, dentists and opticians, both NHS and private. It also applies to any similar records held by your employer.
To date, getting your GP and hospital records has involved applying in writing, paying a fee (up to £50) and waiting (up to 40 days).
Soon, however, the Department of Health will launch an Information Strategy, which signals ‘a change in mindset, so that health and care professionals, organisations and systems recognise that the data in each of our own care records is fundamentally about us’.
By 2015, GPs, who hold the majority of our records, will be required to give us online access to them. This will expand across all health and care records.
The exceptions are if it is believed information in the records would cause serious harm to your physical or mental health, or if the records or information identify or concern another person (eg, a child) who believed the information was confidential.
Pilot studies show routine access helps patients and professionals. According to Sir John Oldham, a Derbyshire GP who is the Department of Health’s National Clinical Lead for Quality and Productivity, ‘patients who understand their diseases [of any kind] have better clinical outcomes. They want to be treated as a “whole” person cared for by one coordinated team, rather than a series of body parts: having access to your own records helps that enormously.’
Records are stored on secure servers. The system is modelled on online banking so is as secure as it can be.
Online access to your GP surgery promotes greater efficiency. You can book and cancel appointments, and order repeat prescriptions. GP Dr Peter Short cites an instance at his Buxton practice where a mother was woken by a sick child at 3.30am, went online and made an appointment for 8.30am: ‘She stopped worrying because she knew her child would be seen within hours.’
Over 60 per cent of GPs have the technology to give you online access to your medical records but less than one per cent use it. You can help accelerate change by asking your GP for online access and joining your Patient Participation Group. For more information, visit the Department of Health website, dh.gov.uk.
Essential viewing for parents
When science documentary maker Diana Hill was pregnant with her son Oscar, now six, she wanted to access expert advice easily. She found plenty was available, but there was no one-stop shop. So, together with Dr Rebecca Chicot, an expert in child development and parenting and also a mother, Diana has created The Essential Parent Company, offering DVDs that give parents clear visual guidelines of everything they need to know. First to launch, with the support of Professor Robert Winston and other experts, is The Essential Baby Care Guide. This set of four DVDs, all beautifully filmed and really informative, covers feeding, sleeping, care and development, plus first aid and accident prevention. Priced £10 for one DVD or £35 for a box set of four, from John Lewis, johnlewis.com and essentialparent.com. The Essential Toddler Care Guide will follow in the autumn and The Essential Preparing for School Guide in 2013.
After months of backache from working at my laptop on an ordinary chair, I bought a foam seat wedge. It claims to restore the natural S curve of the spine and the difference is significant – no backache. It’s portable, fits most chairs and is not expensive. Harley Back Care System Wedge by Able2 UK Ltd, from £17.95, spinalproducts.co.uk.
3 OF THE BEST
1 Salmon and mackerel. A fabulous source of skin-smoothing omega-3 oils. Eat three portions a week. Delicious marinated in lemon juice and fresh chopped ginger, then grilled or poached, with dill sprinkled on top.
2 Salad of rocket, spinach and watercress with olive oil and lemon dressing. Add half an avocado, a hard-boiled egg and/or a little hard goat’s cheese, plus sliced red pepper and half a mild red chilli. Great for glowing skin and strong bones.
3 Cherries This low-calorie fruit contains muscle-feeding potassium, anti-inflammatory quercetin and sleep-promoting melatonin. Eat ten daily, fresh or dried, or as juice.