Pharmacists’ representatives have claimed that use of private health record services such as Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault could risk fragmentation of electronic patient records.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said “the profileration of these systems and indiscriminate use” could lead to information on drug allergies, possible interactions, duplications or dose adjustments not being available when it was needed.

The society, which was responding to a consultation by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics on medical profiling and online medicine, said there could be “serious patient safety implications”.

It argued that the single health record supports the seamless transfer of care between primary and secondary settings and promoted multi- disciplinary working.

The RPSGB said it also had concerns that 9m households in the UK did not have internet access, so groups such as the elderly and most vulnerable were at risk of missing out on the benefits of the latest technologies.

The response added: “The RPSGB concern is that users are a self-selecting group with access to the internet such as the ‘worried well’.”

The society said there was a “relative lack” of health professional input into the design and development of telemedicine applications and said health professional bodies should take an active lead in research into telemedicine and online healthcare services and work closely with software suppliers developing such services.

The RPSGB also argued that providers of services such as online health records, online health information services, private genetic profiling and private body imaging services should be subject to appropriate regulatory standards and a code of ethics.

It said online health tools such as NHS Direct Self Help were useful a means of providing health advice, but rigid treatment algorithms meant they were not a substitute for a personal consultation.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics set up a working party to examine the ethical issues raised by new technologies such as online healthcare, telemedicine and personal genomics in October 2008 and ran a consultation from April to July this year. It is due to issue a report and recommendations in spring 2010.

Link: RPSGB response