Health minister Lord Warner has published a 'care record guarantee' that covers patients' access to their own records, controls over who else can access the information and options for patients who want to limit access further or opt-out altogether.
NHS staff will only have access to records on a "need to know" basis in the course of treating a patient, while patients will have the right to restrict the sharing of information on their records with anyone in the NHS or even deny access to anyone outside the organisation which created it.
But Warner warned that there may be an impact on the quality of care for those patients who do decide to restrict access to their electronic records.
"These rules will be backed up with tough security measures to prevent unauthorised access to records, ensuring everyone can have confidence in the new system," he said in a statement.
The guidelines have been drawn up by the Care Record Development Board, which is chaired by Harry Cayton, the Department of Health's national director for patients and the public, after consultation with various NHS and patient advisory groups.
Warner said the guidelines will be reviewed and updated every six months as the NHS care records system is rolled out.
BT won the £620 million (US$1.1 billion) contract to develop the national "spine" for the electronic patient record system, which will link into regional NHS systems being implemented by Accenture, BT, CSC and Fujitsu.
Silicon.com's Andy McCue reported from London.