Healthcare News & Insights

Why access to clinicians’ notes can improve patients’ health

Lately there’s been more of a push to give patients access to the information in their own health records, including the notes their physicians make. Advances such as electronic health records (EHR) systems and online patient portals have made it easier to share these details with patients.

ThinkstockPhotos-154192178Now there’s evidence that giving patients access to their information can help hospital staff and other healthcare providers give better care to patients.

Usually, when patients access their own health information through a portal, they’re just given data like test results, medications prescribed or other smaller details in their health record. But since the capabilities are already there in many EHRs for patients to access their own information, some clinicians took it a step further in the Open Notes Project.

As described in an article written in The BMJ, with the Open Notes Project, doctors allowed patients to read the notes they made during patient encounters via a patient portal. After the doctor signed the medical record, patients got automatic notices that the clinician’s notes were available for review. They also received another notice to review the notes shortly before their next appointment.

Results were favorable: Over 80% of patients opened at least one note.

What patients liked

Initially, the project was only supposed to last for a year. However, patients liked the idea of reviewing their notes so much, the doctors participating in the project decided to keep it going permanently.

Patients reported several benefits to the project that improved their health, including being inspired to make changes to their behavior after seeing what doctors wrote about their conditions in the medical record. In fact, more than two-thirds of participants said that, after viewing their providers’ notes, they had a better understanding of their health, improved at taking their medications and felt more in control of their care.

They also took more proactive roles with their health in other ways, including reminding doctors themselves about required follow-up visits and passing along details to their own caregivers or family members to keep them in the loop.

Even better: Allowing patients to review their own notes didn’t add much extra work for doctors. About 11% spent more time writing or editing their notes, and only about 3% of providers spent more time answering questions outside of patient visits.

Helpful for hospitals

The Open Notes Project started with primary care providers. But because of its success, many of the participating health systems expanded it to other providers, including hospital clinicians and specialists. Now, thousands of patients at hospitals across the country can review clinical notes from providers, allowing them to ask specific questions about their conditions straight from the information in their medical records.

Many hospitals are participating in the meaningful use program with their EHR, and one of the requirements is that patients communicate with providers via a patient portal. Using this technology to allow patients to access their clinicians’ notes and their full medical record can not only help hospitals satisfy this requirement, it can also improve outcomes for these patients.

Given how much it helped patients improve their health, and the low time commitment required on behalf of providers, allowing patients more access to what’s written in their medical records could be very beneficial to hospitals in their quest to provide value-based, high-quality care.

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