Study: Viewing EHRs during hospitalizations ease patients' worries

Hospitalized patients who had access to their records as their treatment progressed helped reduce patients' worry and confusion, according to a small study published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

"The hope is that increased transparency achieved by sharing electronic medical records with patients while they're in the hospital would make them more engaged in their care, more satisfied, and more likely to ask questions and catch errors," lead study author Jonathan Pell, M.D., who works for the division of general internal medicine at the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, told Reuters.

In the study, 50 patients who knew how to use the Internet were given tablets on which they could read their records. Prior to the study, 92 percent thought that having access to their electronic charts would help them better understand their medical conditions, and 80 percent expected the record review would help them comprehend doctors' instructions. But they also predicted that reading their charts would make them more anxious (42 percent) and confused (52 percent).

After reading their records, however, just 82 percent said it increased their understanding of their conditions and 60 percent reported they better understood doctors' instructions. Yet the level of worry dropped to 18 percent and confusion to 32 percent.

The researchers also surveyed 14 nurses and 28 doctors, a majority of whom expected the practice to create more work for them. Just 36 percent reported that to be the case afterward.

Pell told Reuters that one part of the study didn't work out because patients didn't believe they could catch medical errors. But in-hospital access to patient records has been a big issue for patient advocate Regina Holliday, whose husband died from kidney cancer in 2009. She says she had to fight to obtain his records and found numerous glaring errors in which she could have intervened.

It's vital not only for patient to have access to their health records but also for providers to ensure patients know how to use the information, stressed panelists at the Consumer Health IT Summit last fall.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the Reuters article