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Should Patients Read the Doctor’s Notes?

The New York Times, July 22, 2010

For 40 years, the tension over patient access has been playing out in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices. Although medical records have always been accessible to clinicians, payers, auditors and even researchers, it was not until the 1970s that a few states began giving patients the same rights. While a handful of physicians were vocal supporters of these early efforts, the majority of doctors were far less enthusiastic. They worried that their notes might become a source of unnecessary stress for patients. Read without an experienced clinician’s interpretation, slight abnormalities like an elevated cell count from a viral infection could turn into a life-threatening cancer in the eyes of patients. Even routine abbreviations and jargon like "S.O.B." (shortness of breath) and "anorexic" (a general lack of appetite, not the disease anorexia nervosa) could be confusing at best and inadvertently demeaning at worst. Doctors, already pressed for time, shuddered at the idea of suddenly being responsible for the worries of a reading public.