NHS wants to let you access medical records via a smartphone app

A new NHS will reportedly let users book GP appointments by the end of the yearChristopher Furlong/Getty Images

In the wake of numerous cybersecurity incidents this year, UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt is reportedly set to announce the rollout of a new National Health Service (NHS) smartphone application that will let users access their medical records and book appointments.

Multiple reports indicate that Hunt will tell attendees at an NHS conference this week (Tuesday 12 September) that users will also be able to use the digital service to book prescriptions and access the non-emergency medical helpline, dubbed NHS 111.

It is believed that health records on the app will not contain data regarding hospital treatments but instead be focused solely on GP information.

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Patients will be able to set preferences to opt out of how their personal data is shared with the service. Data will include test results, known health issues, dates of consultations and a personal record log.

Speaking at the Health and Care Innovation Expo in Manchester this week, Hunt will assert that the next 10 years will be the "decade of patient power".

He is expected to say: "If the NHS is going to be the safest, highest quality healthcare system in the world we need to do technology better.

"So today I am setting [...] challenges which, if we achieve them, will make the NHS a world-beater in the care of people with long term conditions.

"People should be able to access their own medical records 24/7, show their full medical history to anyone they choose and book basic services like GP appointments or repeat prescriptions.

"I do not underestimate the challenge of getting there - but if we do it will be the best possible 70th birthday present from the NHS to its patients."

It remains unclear who will develop the new application and where patient data will be stored.

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In a column for HuffPost, the politician claimed the move was about more than just convenience. "Evidence shows that giving people the ability to book online reduces missed appointments, something that costs the NHS millions a year," he wrote.

"If we could get around a quarter of appointments booked online rather than by phone, it is estimated that this could bring around £31m worth of benefits to GP practices.

"While digital is not going to be the answer for every individual or every circumstance, there is surely more we can do to use technology as a way of extending access to high quality [services]."

The UK government has already launched a series of pilot schemes as part of a £4.2bn programme running until 2020. In January 2017, an app was unveiled which used artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help patients diagnose problems without leaving their home.

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It remains unclear if a "chatbot" functionality will be integrated into the new app.

Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee, told News and Star: "GPs have been the leaders in developing and using electronic records and innovative digital technologies and are always looking for new ways to enhance and support patient care.

"It's also important that these systems are well supported and that patients are given the right information on how best to use them safely."

This year the UK's NHS has already been hit by a number of major cybersecurity incidents, most noteably the global WannaCry ransomware outbreak back in May.

At the time, the British Labour Party accused Hunt of failing to see "extensive warning signs" prior to the attack – which shut down critical computers and forced appointment cancellations. In mid-August, "incidences of malware" were detected in its IT and email systems.

It remains to be seen if the new NHS app will have adequate protections in place.

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