Releasing physician notes to patients is scary for many doctors. Common concerns include patient misunderstandings regarding the health information included in the note, damaged physician-patient relationships due to the content included, and a flood of questions from patients who are confused about clinical terminology.
But presenters at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Chicago said it's time to put those concerns to rest.
The presenters, Jan Walker, assistant professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and codirector of the OpenNotes initiative; Amy Gleason, chief operating officer at CareSync; and internist Susan Woods, director of patient experience and connected health at the Veterans Health Administration, agreed that providing patients secure online access to physician notes is a win-win for all parties.
Here are three key findings they shared during their presentation:
1. More patients want — and expect — access to physician notes.
During the presentation, Walker shared results from a one-year Open Notes demonstration project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. About 100 physicians from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger Health System, and Harborview Medical Center participated in the project, affecting more than 13,000 patients in multiple locations.
Jan Walker In the demonstration project, patients received an alert that their note was ready to view as soon as the physician signed the note (and they received another alert prior to patient visits).
Walker acknowledged that one big question prior to starting the project was whether patients would be interested. Ultimately, over the course of the 12-months, 82 percent of patients at Geisinger who had a visit to their provider opened at least one note.
Notably, that included older patients, sicker patients, and less educated patients. In fact, patients with no more than a high school education looked at notes at same rate as everyone else, said Walker.
Ninety nine percent of patients said they wanted to continue having access to physician notes, and 85 percent said availability of physician notes would influence their future choice of providers.
2. Patients report positive results when they can view physician notes.
So what effect did that increased access to physician notes have on patients? The study suggests a positive one. About three-quarters of the survey respondents said they take better care of themselves, understand their health better, feel more in control, take their meds as prescribed at greater rates, and feel better prepared for patient visits, said Walker.
Other positive results Walker said patients reported included:
• Improved recall of the patient visit and improved ability to adhere to follow-up recommendations, because looking at the note helped patients refresh their memory.
• Improved trust between patients and their physicians because it removed the "mystery" of what the physician was writing in the record.
• Improved ability of patients to be prepared for their next visit and to engage in shared decision making.
3. Physicians report positive results when patients can view their notes.
While many of the physicians reported concerns regarding how patient access to notes would affect their work flow, very few actually saw these concerns come to fruition, according to Walker.
Only 2 percent reported longer visits, 3 percent reported spending more time on patient questions, and 11 percent reported spending more time on documentation. In fact, Walker commented that a common question received from physicians who were participating in the demonstration was whether the access to physician notes feature was on, because they weren't getting questions from patients about the notes.
And, contrary to the fear that patients might be confused, unnecessarily worried, or offended by the notes, only one percent to eight percent of physicians reported these problems, said Walker.
Perhaps most telling is that, at the end of the 12-month demonstration, none of the participating primary-care physicians stopped participation, even though that was an option. "We really believe this is the right thing to do," said Walker.