Patients Eager to See Physicians’ Notes, Physicians More Reluctant

Patients are enthusiastic about the benefits of having electronic access to their physician’s notes, but physicians worry about the downside, a new study suggests. (Image: iStockphoto/Steve Debenport)

Patients are enthusiastic about the potential benefits of having access to their physician’s notes about their visit, but physicians are more wary about the potential downsides of sharing such information, suggest results of a survey published in the Annals of Internal Medicine yesterday.

The adoption of electronic medical records systems is opening new avenues for communication between physicians and their patients. One group of researchers has been probing the potential benefits and risks of such enhanced online communication through a research project called OpenNotes. This project involves primary care physicians and patients in the Boston area, rural Pennsylvania, and inner-city Seattle. Physicians with electronic medical records systems were asked to volunteer to share their notes from outpatient visits through these systems. Participating physicians who agreed to share their notes, nonparticipating physicians who chose not to, and their patients were surveyed to assess their attitudes about such a service.

About 42% (37 856 of 90 203) of patients completed the survey, and an overwhelming majority (92%-97% across various sites) thought shared physicians’ notes were a good idea. Although participating physicians who completed the survey (96% response rate with 110 of 114 responding to the survey) were also very positive, with 74%-92% reporting they anticipated improved communication and patient education, only 45%-67% of the nonparticipating physicians (42% response rate; 63 of 140 surveyed) agreed.

But physicians in both groups were more attuned than patients were to potential downsides. For example 50%-58% of the participating physicians and 88%-92% of nonparticipating physicians though the notes might cause greater worry among patients, a concern shared by only 12%-16% of patients.

The authors acknowledge, however, that the findings regarding nonparticipating physicians and patients may be skewed by differences in attitudes between those who responded to the survey and those who did not.

“The enthusiasm of patients exceeded our expectations; most of them were overwhelmingly positive about the prospect of reading visit notes, regardless of demographic or health characteristics,” the authors note.

Categories: Patient Safety/Medical Error, Primary Care/Family Medicine, Quality of Care