From March, patients will be able to carry out email consultations with GPs and other clinicians using a Facebook-style tool called Communicator.

E-Health Insider has been told that Communicator will be launched as part of ambitious development plans for HealthSpace, the online organiser that gives patients access to their NHS Summary Care Record.

Communicator will resemble Facebook in that patients will be able to form an affiliate relationship with their doctor, nurse or therapist, which will allow them to carry out a trusted ‘email’ consultation.

The system could be used in the management of patients with long-term conditions, repeat medication requests, medication reviews and pre-registration assessments.

Communicator will be piloted between April and October next year. Initially, clinicians will have to be on the secure N3 network to use it. In later phases, it will be more widely available.

Dr Gillian Braunold, director of the Summary Care Record and HealthSpace, told EHI that there would be no financial incentive paid to GPs to use Communicator. She said she believed the technology will be so compelling that there will be no need to make financial incentives available.

“The business benefits are so great that we won’t need to incentivise GP use,” she said. “GPs want to provide the best possible care to patients.”

Dr Braunold also stressed that the technology will be aimed at a wide range of clinicians. “Communicator won’t be just for GPs. Patients will be able to communicate with their nurses and other professionals.”

She added that potential uses for the service will be for individual clinicians and patients to decide, but that it is envisaged that further uses could include “pre-registration assessments, QoF checks and medications reviews.”

Dr Braunold also argued that making technology such as trusted email communication available was in line with the recommendations of a recent King’s Fund report, which called for greater use in the NHS of communications tools routinely used in other parts of society.

HealthSpace currently allows people to view very basic health information and receive appointment reminders. The SCR is only available in three pilot areas. HealthSpace is now accessed through NHS Choices, which forms part of NHS Connecting for Health.

Ambitious new rollout plans project 100,000 patients using HealthSpace to access their SCR by the end of 2009. A business case for the development of HealthSpace is currently with the Treasury for approval. The development of Communicator is not, however, reliant on extra funding being approved.