Patients want to see doctors’ notes; M.D.’s object

A survey of patients’ wishes indicates that over 90 percent of them would like to have access to notes that doctors add to their medical charts or type into their computer systems during an appointment or examination. Yet, many doctors object to such requests.

Although patients in Illinois and throughout the entire country may think that they have a right to view their files, having access to such notes is stirring a heated debate in the medical community. Some suggest that increased access might benefit patients and help to decrease the number of medical malpractice lawsuits. But other doctors fear that having access to notes might create more confusion and fear in patients.

In an OpenNotes trial conducted at three primary care practices in three different cities across the U.S., 114 physicians out of more than 250 agreed to participate in the study, allowing patients to have access to their records after visits. The majority of the doctors who agreed to participate in the study agreed that such access to records might benefit the patients.

Doctors who objected to participating in the study said that they are afraid that their notes and evaluations of their patients’ health problems could frighten or confuse patients. Some believe that their notes could be misinterpreted by patients or offend them, and cause a greater number of lawsuits to be filed against doctors.

At one university hospital, however, medical malpractice lawsuits have not increased during the last several years in which patients have been granted the ability to access their electronic records.

The authors of the OpenNotes trial study plan on releasing the results of the study next year. The research team has been collecting data from participating doctors and patients at the three clinics, mainly focusing on how doctors and patients are reacting to the ability having access to records. Researchers are also analyzing how patients are using the information they now have access to.

Many patients believe that having access to the records would help increase their control over their medical care. It is possible that better access to records may improve communication between doctors and patients, and that patients may better comply with physician requests to take medications or carry out other health directives if they better understand the reasoning behind the instructions. Seventy-five percent of the patients in the OpenNotes trial indicated that this would be the case.

Source: TIME, “Can Patients Handle the Truth? Getting Access to Doctors’ Notes,” Alice Park, Dec. 20 2011


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