Doctors’ Notes: Should You Read Them?

It’s a well-worn ritual for most people who see a doctor regularly: While asking you questions, your doctor types and clicks away in response to your answers (or, less often, scribbles with a pen). And in most cases, you have no idea what exactly your doctor is writing.

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Now, though, there’s a movement under way to give patients easier access to what their doctors write about them. OpenNotes is a project that works with medical providers to make notes about patients available to them through a secure, online platform of the provider’s choosing. As noted in a MedPage Today article about the project published earlier this week, OpenNotes is simply an advocacy organization — it doesn’t develop or provide software to facilitate sharing notes — and it’s funded by a variety of grants and charitable funds.

As noted in the article, many doctors who participated in the OpenNotes demonstration project — which began in 2010 in Boston, rural Pennsylvania, and Seattle — were concerned beforehand that sharing their notes could have negative consequences. But while 24% were initially afraid that sharing notes would make patient visits significantly longer, only 2% of the doctors said afterward that this was a problem.

Similarly, while 42% of doctors feared beforehand that they’d need to spend more time addressing patients’ questions and concerns, only 3% indicated later that this actually occurred. And while 39% were initially concerned they’d have to spend more time writing, editing, and dictating notes, only 11% found this to be the case later on.

On the other hand, patients who participated in the demonstration project widely agreed that having access to their notes was beneficial. Between 70% and 72% said they were “taking better care of themselves” as a result; 77% to 85% said they had “better understanding of their medical conditions”; and 69% to 80% said they were “better prepared for visits.”

Currently, only about 12 million patients nationwide have easy access to their medical notes as part of OpenNotes. The program’s goal is to have 50 million patients covered within the next two years. And as described in a video on the OpenNotes website, Dr. Tom Delbanco — a cofounder of OpenNotes who is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School — envisions a future in which sharing notes is a two-way street. A patient, he notes, can often provide more or better information about his or her symptoms — possibly over a span of time between visits — than a doctor can just by asking questions at a visit.

What’s your take on making doctors’ notes easily available to patients — would you be interested in seeing notes about you? Do you think that seeing your doctor’s notes would help you understand your health better, or motivate you to take better care of yourself? Would you choose a doctor or medical practice that participated in OpenNotes if you had the chance? Leave a comment below!

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