More research must be done to prove that electronic personal health records are safe and effective, according to an article in this week's BMJ.
Although such technology offers great opportunities, significant challenges also remain over balancing security and usefulness, standardising existing systems and managing changes to accommodate the technology in today's NHS, say Dr Claudia Pagliari and colleagues.
Electronic Personal Health Records (ePHRs) are defined as electronic applications that allow patients to access and/or manage their health information in a private, secure and confidential environment.
NHS HealthSpace is a secure online personal health organiser available to all patients in England. Patients will in the future be able to access their NHS Summary Care Record via HealthSpace, making it the world's first fully national example of ePHR.
Currently, writes Dr Pagliari, a senior lecturer in primary care at University of Edinburgh, existing models of ePHRs vary in the extent to which content and right of access are controlled by the patient or their health care provider and how interactive they are.
These different systems are becoming increasingly complex and some offer features such as health and lifestyle records, ability to book appointments and appointment reminders, patient-doctor messaging and consultation summaries.
The authors say that this technology has many benefits, including empowering patients through enhanced information and shared decision making; increasing patient safety through exposing record errors; reducing unnecessary consultations; and overcoming geographical boundaries to patient care.
However, challenges still exist over security and standardising the different systems, they warn, and health professionals and patients should be involved at all stages of design, development and implementation of the technology.
"ePHR may improve the quality, safety and efficiency of care and empower patients, but further research is required to demonstrate the benefits and risks. Evidence of the impact of ePHR on clinical, safety, economic and psychosocial outcomes is urgently required," they conclude.