Do You Want to Be Able to Read and Share Your Medical Records?

A pair of U.S. studies suggest that most people do, believing it would help to boost the quality of care that they're already receiving

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Patients want easy access to any notes their doctor has recorded about them, and they want the right to let others view their medical information, according to a pair of U.S. studies.

Advocates of open-access medical records say they are not only a patient's right but will help boost the quality of care as well.

"We believe there is abundant evidence that having patients actively participate in their care and know what's happening will improve their care," said Dr. Kenneth Shine, the executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System, who wrote an editorial accompanying the studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Patients have not always had an easy time getting hold of their medical records, especially the notes that doctors take during a visit, said one of the study's senior authors, Dr. Tom Delbanco at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.

"I think the doctors felt that they owned the notes," Delbanco told Reuters Health.

"It seems obvious to me that to the extent we can let patients help carry the load we can avoid mistakes."

Increasingly, health systems are making it easier for patients to get access to prescription lists, lab results and, sometimes, doctors' notes. Delbanco said one reason is that "the whole world is becoming transparent ... The other is that computers make it easier."

He and his colleagues started OpenNotes, a system that gives patients an online portal to their doctors' comments from a visit.

Their study surveyed more than 37,000 patients and more than 170 primary care doctors, in advance of the debut of OpenNotes, about their expectations for the system.

The doctors and patients came from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Beth Israel and Geisinger Health System already offered online access to medical information, but the doctors' notes were a new addition.

Sixty-three of the physicians who answered the survey decided not to participate in OpenNotes.

Four out of five of them thought it would cost them more time in having to answer patients' questions, and the majority also felt that the extra pair of eyes would cause them to censor their notes regarding mental health and substance abuse.

Doctors who opted in to the program had much more optimistic views, most of them believing that patients would be more satisfied with their care. A sizeable group of the doctors thought it would make care safer.

Patients were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about OpenNotes, regardless of whether they decided to join the program or not, with more than 90 percent responding favorably.

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Kerry Grens is a reporter for Reuters.

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