Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Patient Access - Why I Think It Is Important

One of the sad facts of life is that as we get older more things go wrong with out bodies. Some things are fairly minor and are just due to fair wear and tear; these we swear about to ourselves, but don't normally bother the doctor with. Some things seem to be a bit more major. We start to worry about what may be causing the nasty symptoms that we are suffering, and for these we make an appointment to see our GP. Sometimes the GP can put our mind at rest, tell us what is wrong straight away, and give us a prescription that deals with the problem in a matter of days or at worst weeks. However, every once in a while the problem is more serious and our GP has to refer us to a specialist at a nearby hospital.

When we encounter such a situation, no matter how much we tell ourselves not to worry, we can't help it. Our GP probably gives us very good advice, a possible diagnosis, and tells us that our visit to the hospital is just so that we can be sure. The problem is that as soon as the word hospital is mentioned, we probably forget the rest of what is said to us. One of the ways that we can get round this problem is PAERS (Patient Access Electronic Records System). At the surgery that I attend all patients over the age of 16 have the right to use PAERS, which for this practice is provided by EMIS.

This means that I can check what the doctor has written about the consultation; read helpful leaflets that are relevant to any diagnosis by using an automatically created link; I can check when things like smear tests are due, and get the results online; if I have had a blood test I can check to see if the results are in and whether they are normal or require me to see a doctor; I can book an appointment; and I can request a repeat prescription. It also means that I can check on the dates of operations that I have had for when I have to fill in those interminable forms that we all seem to have to fill in these days.

The Department of Health also believes that patients should have access to information, that until a few years ago, doctors felt was for their eyes only. You never saw the referral letter that was written to the consultant, nor did you see what the consultant had to say after you had seen him. At your appointment with the consultant, he would undoubtedly say things to you that went in through one ear and out through the other because you were so worried about what may have been discovered. And doctors do have a habit of talking about things in terms that we, the patient, may not understand, so when we are asked whether we have any questions, we generally say no because we don't know what we should be asking. This is particularly true if you are elderly, or have to deal with everything on your own.

By giving patients access to their medical records many of these things are no longer a problem. But access varies from GP practice to GP practice; and many hospital trusts do not seem to implement the Department of Health's Copying Letters Policy.  I have been very lucky because just recently I have been through the whole process of a hospital referral, appointments, tests, and diagnosis, and I have been properly informed all the way through the process.  As a result of all this the level of anxiety that I suffered has been kept to a minimum, and I have not had to wait too long for answers.  The system is not perfect, but it is certainly a lot better than in the past.

Today I am going to be demonstrating PAERS as part of a presentation being given by B who was my GP until his retirement in the summer.  Although he has stopped seeing patients, he has not stopped working on medical matters including the benefits of patient's having access to their medical records.  This is going to be a big test for me because it will involve me not only demonstrating the application to a lot of GPs but also possibly having to answer questions at the end of the presentation.  So this evening I am going to be going up to a medical education establishment in the centre of London for one of the most nerve-wracking things that I have done in a long time.  But because I see it as something important for patients to be involved in I am going to take this giant step and hopefully give a really good demonstration.


cb said...

I wish my surgery had something like that. Nice to know its out there - and I really hope it is coming to us! Good luck with the presentation. It is very important that people have access to their own records.

steph said...

Good for you, MSG!

I look forward to reading your post on the presentation.

While PAERS won't work for every patient, it's obviously served you well to date and I'm delighted that this has been recognised by your GP practice. I'm all for patient empowerment and you're a great advert for it's promotion.

Stick your chest out and be proud!