The Royal College of GPs is to lead a project to make sure that all patients can access their GP record online by 2015.

The royal medical college was invited by the government to lead a collaboration of professional and patient groups looking at the issue.

It will lead on a number of work streams dedicated to making the government’s pledge on providing online access to transactional services and patient records a reality.

Dr Peter Short, clinical advisor to the Department of Health Informatics Directorate and chair of two of the RCGP workstreams, spoke at the recent EMIS National User Group Conference at Warwick University about the project.

He said it is clearly seen and understood centrally as not being a one-size-fits-all exercise, as each practice and GP will have different issues and needs.

Figures show that while 75% of practices can offer patients online booking, only 25% actually do.

More than 70% can offer repeat prescriptions and 27% offer the service; and while 53% can offer patients access to their records online, less than 1% have switched the service on.

He explained that the government’s aim is not to replace the patient GP relationship, but to make it easier for patients who want to manage their own care to do so.

The RCGP programme is working on phase one of the project which involves defining the scope of work.

From October to December the team is looking at the specification, development and initial delivery of the programme and aiming for full implementation and roll-out to practices between January 2013 to December 2014.

Dr Short described it as a “short sharp piece of work” to address the issues and challenges associated with offering all patients in England online records access by 2015.

“The RCGP will be the lead professional body that will lead on this process, pulling in an enormous amount of different agencies.”

Some of the concerns already raised include issues of safety, the potential cost to practices and whether it improves quality of care.

The group will also look at how to handle patient-reported data. Dr Short said providing evidence of benefits for both patients and the practice will be key.

“The profession needs to be confident that the promised benefits are deliverable not theoretical,” he said, adding that practices must be allowed to move in their own time.

Issues related to information governance are also being worked through including linking with Dame Fiona Caldicott’s independent review of the balance between patient confidentiality and information sharing

“I suspect there will be a rebalancing of the views around IG. Rather than being an inhibitor, it’s there to weigh up the potential benefits versus risks of using information more widely,” he said.

Dr Short started offering online appointments in 2006 and use of this functionality at his practice has doubled every year.

He believed that in order for more practices to use online booking there needs to be greater granularity as practices offer a range of different appointments and it is important that people are booked into the right one.

He decided to offer his patients record access last November and said he has received positive anecdotal reports from both his patients and other practices offering the service.

One of the major workload issues has been when patients forget their password and go into the practice to get another one.

He said this will be helped by EMIS’ revamp of EMIS Access as Patient Access with a new service whereby patients can request their user name or password by entering other personal details, similar to bank security.

However, patients will also need support to access and understand their records beyond the original registration, he added.