Unintended consequences of patient online access to health records: a qualitative study in UK primary care

Andrew Turner, Rebecca Morris, Lorraine Mcdonagh, Fiona Hamilton, Sarah Blake, Michelle Farr, Fiona Stevenson, Jonathan Banks, Helen Atherton, Dylan Rakhra, Gemma Lasseter, Gene Feder, Sue Ziebland, Emma Hyde, John Powell, Jeremy Horwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Health systems around the world are seeking to harness digital tools to promote patient autonomy and increase the efficiency of care. One example of this policy in England is online patient access to medical records in primary care (online access). Aim: To identify and understand the unintended consequences of online access. Design and Setting: Qualitative interview study in 10 general practices in South West and North West England. Method: Semi-structured individual interviews with 13 patients and 16 general practice staff with experience of online access. Results: Online access generated unintended consequences that negatively impacted patients’ understanding of their health care, for example patients discovering surprising information or information that was difficult to interpret. Online access impacted GPs’ documentation practices, such as when GPs pre-emptively attempted to minimise potential misunderstandings to aid patient understanding of their health care, in other cases, negatively impacting the quality of the records and patient safety when GPs avoided documenting their speculations or concerns. Contrary to assumptions that practice workload would be reduced, online access introduced extra work, such as managing and monitoring access and taking measures to prevent possible harm to patients. Conclusion: The unintended consequences described by staff and patients show that to achieve the intended consequences set out in NHS policy additional work is necessary to prepare records for sharing and prepare patients about what to expect. It is crucial that practices are adequately supported and resourced to manage the unintended consequences of online access now that it is the default position.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Early online date5 Sept 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Sept 2022


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