Many if not most health systems and doctors’ offices around the country have adopted electronic medical records. As a result, patients can access appointment information, pay their bills, check their lab results and in a few cases read the visit notes that detail their clinical condition.
What Are OpenNotes?
The idea of OpenNotes originated at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston several years ago. The inventors wanted to make the doctor’s insights available to the patient. Other health care providers considered this a radical undertaking at the time. Now, however, OpenNotes has become an international movement. It urges doctors, nurses, therapists and other health care providers to share the notes they write describing patient visits. Such visit notes are standard; OpenNotes are different because patients get to read them.
Not all health care systems offer patients access to the doctors’ clinical notes. Those who do, however, have found it helpful. Doctors were initially skeptical of this idea, but those who have tried it often find it useful. Three large health care systems that have embraced the practice are Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and its affiliates in Massachusetts, Geisinger in rural Pennsylvania and the University of Washington Medicine is Seattle, Washington.
Do Patients Benefit from Reading Their Visit Notes?
New research supports the value of OpenNotes (Journal of Medical Internet Research, May 6, 2019). Investigators surveyed nearly 30,000 patients who had used the patient portal in one of the three health systems mentioned. They had conducted the initial research seven years previously. Ninety-eight percent of the respondents agreed that online access to visit notes was helpful. Seventy-three percent said that reading the notes helped them take better care of their health, while 66 percent reported that these notes reminded them of the plan of care. This may permit patients to follow through better toward achieving their health goals.
Although doctors sometimes object that patients will be confused or anxious if they are allowed to read their visit notes, the researchers report this rarely happened. About 3 percent of patients said they were confused by what they read. Fewer than 5 percent were more worried about their health conditions after reading the visit notes than they had been before.
The authors note:
“Less educated, nonwhite, older, and Hispanic patients, and individuals who usually did not speak English at home, were those most likely to report major benefits from note reading.”
In particular, they conclude:
“…OpenNotes brings benefits to patients that largely outweigh the risks.”
Previous studies have shown that visit notes are not always accurate. If you have access through your own patient portal, you should check the information so you can request corrections if necessary.