Patients report benefits of having access to EHR clinical notes

Patients derive multiple benefits—including the ability to better manage their care—if they can access their electronic health records to read clinicians’ notes after medical visits.

That’s among the findings of a new study of more than 20,000 adult patients published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

For the study, three large health systems—Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger and University of Washington Medicine in Seattle—conducted a web-based survey of adult patients who used portal accounts and had at least one visit note available in a recent 12-month period.

The results of the survey show that 98 percent of patients indicated that online access to visit notes was a good idea, while 73 percent of those reading notes rated the practice as very important for helping them take care of their health and feeling more in control.

In addition, 66 percent of patients said that reading notes helped them remember their plan of care, while 63 percent of those surveyed rated the availability of notes as very important for choosing a future provider.

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“This study is the first to include large numbers of patients reading notes across medical, surgical and mental health specialties,” says study co-author Jan Walker, a health services researcher in the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “These patients may have been reading their notes for several years; the participating institutions implemented OpenNotes across their ambulatory practices by 2014.”

Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) is part of a growing nationwide movement among providers—called OpenNotes—designed to enhance overall safety and quality of care by ensuring the accuracy of clinician note-taking, while reducing medical errors and improving medication adherence.

Also See: UCHealth offers patients enterprise-wide access to physician notes

“In the United States today, more than 38 million patients can access their clinician notes through secure patient portals—and, now we've learned that the benefits persist over time and are true of visits to all kinds of doctors and other clinicians,” says study co-author and OpenNotes co-founder Tom Delbanco, MD, MACP of BIDMC and John F. Keane and Family Professor at Harvard Medical School. “This represents a profound culture change in the practice of medicine, and the patients who participated are telling us it is here to stay.”

In particular, this latest OpenNotes study revealed that patients from historically underserved groups—including those with lower incomes or who spoke a language other than English at home—were most likely to report benefits.

“Across three geographically diverse patient populations and various demographic subgroups, patients told us that the benefits of note reading are widespread,” added Walker, who is also co-founder of OpenNotes.

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