In a Modern Healthcare opinion piece, Tom Delbanco and Jan Walker -- clinicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and professors at Harvard Medical School -- write that "giving patients access to their own medical notes may help them manage their care more effectively and join in efforts to detect and prevent medical errors."
Delbanco and Walker write that "at a time when all Americans are increasingly relying on electronic technologies to access information they need to make important decisions," health care providers should allow patients "to retrieve their personal medical information readily, including their doctors' notes." Few patients take advantage of a HIPAA provision that grants them the option to review their medical notes, Delbanco and Walker explain.
They add that the ramifications of allowing patients "to read their medical notes are complex." According to Delbanco and Walker, it raises new questions, such as:
- Will physicians work to ensure their notes are more accurate?;
- Will allowing patients to review notes improve medication adherence?;
- Will patients share their notes with others?; and
- Will making notes available "affect the likelihood of medical error and litigation?"
They write, "Our expectation is that the short- and long-term benefits of open notes will far outweigh the harms."
Delbanco and Walker conclude, "Transparency is here to stay, and we in the medical professions can choose either to shape the future or try to stem its evolution," adding, "If we work carefully toward open notes with those we serve, we suspect we'll come up with a 'win-win' for all concerned" (Delbanco/Walker, Modern Healthcare, 11/7).