All patients will be able to access their general practice records online to order repeat prescriptions and view test results by 2015 under the government's long-awaited NHS Information Strategy.
However, GPs can choose not to provide patients access to historical information that may not have been written with patient access in mind.
Published today (21 May) The Power of Information: Putting all of us in control of the health and care information we need claims a better use of information can help healthcare professionals to prioritise more face-to-face support "where it is needed".
The government has called for a "change in culture and mindset" in which NHS workers recognise information in care records "is fundamentally about patients".
Not only will patients be able to view their GP records, order repeat prescriptions and book appointments online, but by 2015 they will also be able to communicate electronically with general practice staff.
Commissioners will be tasked with ensuring there is a clear and agreed timetable for which GP surgeries deliver greater online access to patients.
"The internet has revolutionised how people shop, bank and travel, and for too long the NHS has not been part of that," said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.
"These proposals will ensure that the NHS will become easier to understand, easier to access and will drive up standards of care."
The report notes half of general practices currently use IT systems with the technical capability to provide patients with electronic access to their records, but acknowledges less than 1% offer this service.
It is argued the "significant increases in productivity" that will come from greater patient access will "far outweigh the initial modest investment of time" required to set up the new system.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) will work in partnership with patient groups and other professional organisations to lead the development of a plan to support patients to access services and their records electronically.
The NHS Commissioning Board will work with the RCGP and other partners to promote this work from 2013 onwards.