Docs leery of letting patients view notes

When it comes to the idea of full patient access to their medical records, patient and physician attitudes fall on near-opposite ends of the spectrum, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

For the study, a team led by Harvard researchers Jan Walker and Dr. Tom Delbanco surveyed primary care physicians and patients across three practices before inviting them to join OpenNotes, a voluntary program that provided patients with access to physicians' written notes.

As the researchers expected, patients overwhelmingly favored having access to their records, with 80 percent indicating that the information would empower them to take charge of their health. Conversely, 80 percent of the surveyed doctors worried that patients could misinterpret their notes, USA Today reports.

We'll have to wait until the end of the study period next year to learn how participating doctors and patients actually reacted to record transparency and used the information. Hypothetically, though, 75 percent of patients said open notes would improve their medication adherence because they would better understand why their doctors believed they needed the drugs. Further, about 20 percent of patients said they would share the notes with friends and family, which may help keep them honest about following doctors' orders, according to Time.

Of the doctors who agreed to participate in the study, 69 percent to 81 percent said they thought the transparency was a good idea and beneficial for patients. However, doctors generally expressed concerns that patients didn't have the knowledge to understand notes correctly. Physicians also were concerned that patients who shared their notes with others, particularly on social media sites such as Facebook, might second-guess their doctors. Others still were worried that they'd have to censor their written notes to avoid offending or confusing patients in a way that might increase the risk of a malpractice suit.

However, an accompanying editorial pointed out that an established note-sharing program in Texas found such risks not true. In addition, the Harvard researchers noted that they anticipate reports from doctors and patients following the study to differ from their predictions.

To learn more:
- read the article from USA Today
- read the article from Time
- check out the article from Reuters
- download the full text of the study from the Annals of Internal Medicine (.pdf)