Health minister Simon Burns has urged the NHS to open up a dialogue with its users, using modern information technology.

Giving the keynote note speech at eHealth Insider Live 2010, Burns said that companies were increasingly using the internet to engage their customers and invite feedback and ideas.

“Good NHS organisations are starting to do this too,” he said; but a change of attitude was needed to make such approaches routine.

He also urged his audience to respond to the government’s consultation on an information revolution for the NHS, saying it was their expertise that would make it happen.

In his speech at the NEC in Birmingham, Burns gave an overview of the impact of IT on society, arguing that the internet had opened up information to people, but social media sites such as YouTube and Twitter allowed them to engage with each other.

“There really is an information revolution. But while successful businesses and individual people around the world embrace it, there is one sector that has so far failed to properly join in and reap the benefits – government.”

Burns outlined a number of challenges that would need to be overcome for government in general and the NHS in particular to join the information revolution.

He said patients needed more control of their own information, and that “control is more than access” it was “about deciding what happens to that information” and who to share it with.

“If we really control our record, we can also add to it,” he went on. “We can include our end of life or crisis plans, we can add any specific requirements we may have – wheelchair access or a vegetarian menu.”

He said information also needed to be structured so it could be widely shared, that it needed to be easier to understand and interpret, that it needed to be tailored to individual needs, and that it needed to be accessible to all – including the 10m people in the UK who have never used the internet.

On this point, he added: “We need to move away from the idea that it will be mainly the government providing information on the quality of services. Instead, we need a broad range of organisations able to offer it to a variety of audiences.

“This requires more openness. All NHS and adult social care organisations should offer the public and third parties the greatest possible access to the information they hold as soon as possible… even if the raw information isn’t completely polished.”

Burns made several references to the government’s white paper, ‘Equity and excellence: Liberating the NHS’ and to the consultation on an information strategy to support it, ‘An information revolution.’

He urged his audience to respond to the consultation, stressing that “as information professionals you will have a greater role and a higher profile within the health service” and ministers needed their input to move from their vision to achieving it.

“We need your knowledge, your ideas and your enthusiasm to give people control of their own records, to encourage third parties into the market and to structure our data,” he said. “What will you do to make it happen?”