Two in five adults in the US keep their own personal and family health records, with 13% of them keeping them electronically and 40% planning to do so in the future, a new survey has announced.

The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive, asked 2,242 adults about the information they recorded about their health. 42% said they had a place where they kept “all your medical records with the results of all your medical tests and details about prescriptions, treatments, known allergies and other healthcare information."

More women (45%) than men (38%) kept records, and 58% of the over-65s filed information about their treatment. 84% of all surveyed welcomed the whole concept. However, out of the 13% in the Harris survey who kept electronic records, only one in thirteen kept them online at a health record website.

Richard Fitton, a GP at Hadfield Medical Centre, Derbyshire, welcomed the results of the survey. Dr Fitton, who has pioneered a system at his surgery that allows patients copies of their NHS records on floppy disc or paper, agreed that if more patients in the UK were given the opportunity to hold their own health records, whether electronically or not, interest and take-up would dramatically improve.

Times were changing, he argues. "Households have got smaller and people are more organised, and there is a freer flow of information. I also think that culture is changing in society, it’s more easy to get information and explanations. People can get information from magazines and newspapers.

“America has a culture that asks questions, and I think that is a really good attitude. Doctors really struggle with it. They think it causes more work but I don’t think it does."

Although the Harris survey referred to people recording their own interpretations of their health and treatments rather than by health professionals, Dr Fitton foresees a time when there would be collaboration between doctors and patients in keeping records, and more. Health record websites would be a vital part of this.

“The concept of healthcare records is a developing one. Health information is going to become a health tool… A ‘record’ suggests that it is something just to keep, but it’s a tool for doctors and nurses. As people realise the power of this tool, I think people will keep whole historic notes."

If patients and doctors both had a say in keeping their records, the whole concept would become more useful to both parties, and become a preventative rather than reactive tool. Keeping them electronically would greatly aid this process.

Several health record website sites exist in the US, such as MyDocOnline. The NHS’s online health record website, HealthSpace, allows patients to log appointments, keep records of their medication and monitor their health. Details about the takeup and usage levels of HealthSpace were not available at the time of publication.

One explanation for the relatively low take-up of online self-monitoring health records, and a reason why people possibly might be reluctant to become involved with HealthSpace, is perceived problems about security and privacy on the internet.

Research published last October by the National Programme and HealthWhich? found that there was widespread support for patients having access to medical copies of their records. But although patients felt that access at home would be beneficial, they were wary of using the internet to read their records due to these concerns. The survey concluded that it was not a “viable option".

This was reflected in the Harris Interactive survey, which showed that two out of three people had serious concerns about privacy and security with keeping their health records online.

Another survey, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, revealed that patient experience in Pennsylvania of electronic health records was overwhelmingly positive. Users of the Geisinger Health System found it relatively easy to use, and were eager to use oline tools to renew prescriptions and getting general answers to medical question. Only 30% of patients expressed concern about security and privacy