Online Access to Doctors' Notes Might Fuel Worry, Report Says

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Providing patients with online access to their doctors' notes could help boost patient engagement and treatment adherence, but it also could lead to unnecessary worry, according to a preliminary report on a new research project, the Wall Street Journal reports (Landro, Wall Street Journal, 7/20).

Researchers explained the ideas behind the new project, called OpenNotes, in an article published on Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Project Details

The yearlong OpenNotes project aims to assess the effects of providing patients with access to the notes their physicians make during consultations (Pittman, Reuters, 7/20).

The initiative is being funded through a $1.4 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It involves 115 primary care physicians and 25,000 patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Massachusetts, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and Harborview Medical Center in Washington state (Neergaard, AP/MSNBC, 7/20).

The researchers will monitor the patients' use of the notes, which will be available on a secure website. Doctors' habits also will be monitored to determine whether they are censoring themselves or writing more patient-friendly notes (Roan, "Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 7/19).

Obstacles and Concerns

Researchers note that although patients have legal rights to review their doctors' notes, various obstacles -- such as additional fees or requirements that patients be monitored while they review the notes -- make it challenging to do so (Reuters, 7/20).

Researchers also reported on the possible downsides of making it easier for patients to view their doctors' notes. They point out that some patients might feel anxious if they find notes speculating about their chances of developing a serious condition.

In addition, some physicians might worry that the use of certain medical terms might lead to misunderstandings (Wall Street Journal, 7/20).

The researchers write, "Opening documents that are often both highly personal and highly technical is anything but simple; the implications are broad and filled with uncertainty," adding, "Doctors' notes can also stifle or fuel the fires of litigators" ("Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 7/19).

Reader Survey

Accompanying the researchers' article is a reader survey about perceptions on patient access to physicians' notes (AP/MSNBC, 7/20).


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