Study: Sharing notes leads to better patient outcomes

Last week on our Chicago medical malpractice law blog, we had mentioned that clear communication between doctors and their patients may help to reduce medical errors and prevent serious injuries, including a wrongful death. New information from research confirms this belief.

A recent study shows that physicians who share their notes with patients generally experience better patient compliance and outcomes. Patients who are permitted to review their physicians’ notes feel as though they are more involved in their own care, especially when they can inform their doctors about mistakes in their files or ask additional questions about something they may not understand in patient records.

A study invited over 100 doctors at three U.S. hospitals to allow their patients to access their notes during a 12-month period. The project, called OpenNotes, did not add a significant amount of work to the already heavy workload of most doctors, but it did permit patients to have a more thorough dialog with their healthcare providers. Most patients who participated in the program felt empowered, according to the research.

This new strategy could make significant patient-safety improvements in a world where a small medical error could have devastating consequences for unsuspecting patients. Better communication could reduce the risk of medical errors because patients would be able to provide their doctors with additional information about drug interactions and other health problems that doctors might have forgotten to put down in their notes.

An important benefit of the project was that patients who read doctors’ notes were more likely to take their medications as directed. Nearly half of the participants also shared the notes with their family members or friends, according to the study’s data.

Nearly 99 percent of the patients in the study said they would want to see the notes in the future. Most patients said they enjoyed playing a more active role in their treatment. It is not clear whether medical professionals intend to expand the reach of the program, but its success suggests a new way to reduce medical errors that continue to cause thousands of fatalities each year in the U.S.

Source: DoctorsLounge, “Sharing notes with patients empowers them: study,” Oct. 1, 2012

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