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Rush University Medical Center Rolls Out OpenNotes

Posted on November 18, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

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.

Patients Deserve Complete Access To Their Health Data

Posted on February 23, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

As a vigorous healthcare advocate — for both myself and ailing family members and friends — I love the idea of OpenNotes. As some readers will know, the OpenNotes model gives patients easy access to their clinician’s visit notes within the system’s EMR.

As you can see below, the idea has gone from a three-practice demo to a hot idea:

Chart courtesy of OpenNotes,org

Still, given the widespread adoption of EMRs by hospitals, you’d think the list of participating healthcare organizations would be longer.  The group represents a very small percentage of U.S. hospitals and clinics.

I’ve read many critical analyses of the OpenNotes concept, and some have a reasonable foundation. But if you dig into the analyses, it becomes pretty clear what’s going on; critics believe that doctors and patients are insecure and immature.

After all, while there might be some exceptions to the rule — such as providing too much access to mentally ill patients during an acute episode —  in general I believe that patients should have complete access to information concerning their health status and treatment.

After all, whenever possible medical treatment should be based on consensus, especially when clinician and patient don’t know each other well. No EMR on the planet can teach the doctor about my history as quickly and accurately as I can. OK, I admit it, I didn’t go to medical school, but as a 50-year old patient activist with multiple chronic illnesses spanning 30 years, I would tend to believe that I understand me better than an ED doc that met me five minutes ago.

Not only that, I’d argue that if the information a clinician creates concerns my health, well-being and safety, it’s flat unethical to keep me from seeing it. I want to know what’s going on and I want to know now. But many institutional practices make even routine data sharing difficult. I’ve even had medical practices refuse to share clinical testing results via their portal until the clinician had “approved” it. Yeah — try saying that to my face, lady.

Bottom line, both sides should be capable of addressing documented reality and debating matters of opinion like adults. Assuming otherwise might protect clinician and patients from bruised feelings, but it doesn’t improve their care. Instead, it keeps an obstacle to collaborative medicine in place which shouldn’t be there.