Back in 2010, a group of primary care doctors from three different healthcare organizations across the US came together to launch a project in which they’d begin sharing their clinical notes directly with their patients. The doctors involved were part of a 12-month study designed to explore how such sharing would affect healthcare. The project was a success, and today, 10 million patients have access to their clinicians’ notes via OpenNotes.
Now, Rush University Medical Center has joined the party. The 664-bed academic hospital, which is based in Chicago, now allows patients to see all of their doctor’s notes through a secure web link which is part of Epic’s MyChart portal. According to Internet Health Management, Rush has been piloting OpenNotes since February and rolled it out across the system last month. Patients could already use MyChart to review physician instructions, prescriptions and test orders online.
If past research is any indication, the new service is likely to be hit with patients. According to a study from a few years ago, which looked at 3,874 primary care patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger Health System and Harborview Medical Center, 99% of study participants wanted continued access to clinician notes after having it for one year. This was true despite the fact that almost 37% of patients reported being concerned about privacy after using the portal during that time.
Dr. Allison Weathers, Rush associate chief medical information officer, told the site that having access to the notes can help individuals with complex health needs and under the care of multiple providers. “Research shows that when patients can access their physicians’ notes, they better understand the medical issues and treatment plan as active partners in their care,” she said. “When a patient is sick, tired or stressed during a doctor’s visit, they may forget what the doctors said or prescribed.”
I think it’s also apparent that giving patients access to clinician notes helps them engage further with the process of care. Ordinarily, for many patients, medical notes from their doctor are just something that they hand along to another doctor. However, when they have easy access to their notes, alongside of the test results, appointment scheduling, physician email access and other portal functions, it helps them become accustomed to wading through these reports.
Of course, some doctors still aren’t OpenNotes-friendly. It’s easy to see why. For many, the idea of such sharing private notes — and perhaps some unflattering conclusions — has been out of the question. Many have suggested that if patients read the notes, they can’t feel free to share their real opinion on matters of patient care and prognosis. But the growth of the OpenNotes program suggests to me that the effect of sharing notes has largely been beneficial, giving patients the opportunity not only to correct any factual mistakes but to better understand their provider’s perspective. As I see it, only good can come from this over the long run.