You’ve heard the old adage that records are made to be broken. How about a new one: Records are made to be shared. Did you ever see that episode of “Seinfeld” where Elaine goes to great lengths (and beyond) to see what her doctor is writing about her in her medical chart? Well, it’s funny because it’s true — patients want to know what’s in there — not because they want to backseat-drive their physicians, but because being able to review what happened in a visit in their doctor’s own words makes patients feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about their own health.
It’s a win-win
In a quasi-experimental study published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers evaluated the effect on doctors and patients of facilitating patient access to physician notes over secure internet portals.
Here’s a glance at what they found:
• The majority of patients with access to visit notes opened at least one note.
• Of those patients, more than three-quarters reported that open notes helped them feel more in control of their care.
• More than half reported increased medication adherence.
And what about the docs?
• Very few reported longer visits or more time spent addressing patient questions.
• Only a small percentage reported taking more time to write notes.
At the end of the experimental period, 99 percent of patients wanted open notes to continue and no doctor elected to stop. “Patients accessed visit notes frequently, a large majority reported clinically relevant benefits and minimal concerns, and virtually all patients wanted the practice to continue,” the study authors wrote. “With doctors experiencing no more than a modest effect on their work lives, open notes seem worthy of widespread adoption.”
We’re all on the same web page
It makes sense. When a patient feels confident his or her issues are being noted and addressed, their confidence in a medical practice increases. Let’s face it: Getting in to see the doctor is no small feat for many patients. The time crunch begins as soon as the exam room door closes. A patient can leave an appointment more confused than she came in. Using a secure physician portal to give access to notes gives patients a frontline source other than your nursing staff to go to with those lingering “Now, what did the doctor say about that?” questions. If they can look at the chart to be reminded that you want them to start the DASH diet, it saves everyone time.
Have a healthier relationship
It’s what patients want — honest, clean communication. What’s in it for the physician? Possibly, a revitalized practice. As part of the study, 70 percent of PCPs responded with free text to the question, “What was the best thing about opening your notes to patients online?” Doctors most frequently commented about strengthened trust, transparency, communication and shared decision-making with patients, often noting that some patients seemed more activated or empowered. Doctors also wrote that shared notes might have improved patient satisfaction, patient safety, the ability to reinforce the office visit, and the opportunity for patient education. These are the hallmarks of patient retention, the building blocks of revenue generation. Maybe it’s time to open up.
Steven Ferguson is Vice President Physician Marketing/Patient Management Officer with Hello Health. From 2008 to 2011, Steven served as the Vice President of Product Development at Myca Health, Inc., the parent company of Hello Health. From 2004 to 2008, he served as Senior Product Manager of Cardinal Health Clinical Services and Technologies, responsible for managing point-of-care medication administration and clinical documentation applications.