Giving patients access to their GP records can reduce demand for traditional appointments and telephone calls to practices, a research study has suggested.

The government has set a target of giving all patients who want it access to their GP record – or the elements included in the Summary Care Record – by 2015.

But in a forward to the study by Caroline Fitton, published in the London Journal of Primary Care, Brian Fisher, a GP in Lewisham, says “many practitioners worry that their workload will increase as a result”.

He says GPs worry that patients “will not understand what they read”, leading to more demand for appointments.

The study set out to find out whether this would happen by examining the impact of records access on two pioneering practices; Manor House Surgery in Glossop and the Haughton Thornley Medical Centres in Hyde.

It focused on patients who had accessed their records at least twice, and used questionnaires to find out what they thought of the service, while attempting to exclude their experience of other ‘transactional’ services, such as being able to book and change appointments online.

It found that a significant number of patients recalled being able to avoid an appointment or a call to the surgery by using it to access test results or pick up letters without “bothering” staff.

Averaged over a year, Fitton, who is a medical student at St George’s Hospital in London, estimated that records access saved 187 clinical appointments with both doctors and nurses and 290 telephone calls.

As a result, she estimated that if 30% of its patients used records access at least twice a year, the average 10,000 patient practice would save 4,747 appointments a year and 8,020 telephone calls.

In a discussion, Fitton concludes: “The effects in our study are likely to be the result of people doing things for themselves; which is typical of online experience.”

The study acknowledges that access has a cost; but suggests this can be reduced to around £5 a year per patient by using admin staff to manage it.