Should Doctors Share Notes with Patients?

Joe Cantlupe, December 29, 2011

To share notes, or not to share—that is the question.

What would happen if physicians' notes about patients were actually read by patients? Would it cause an onslaught of worry, anxiety, and extra work for already over-extended physicians? Could those notes become a catalyst for patients' cooperation in their own care?

It depends upon whom you ask.

After studying nearly 173 primary care physicians who shared notes with more than 38,000 patients at three hospitals, researchers found that patients were enthusiastic about the note sharing, but physicians less so.

"The response among physicians is a mixed bag; some are cautiously optimistic and quite a few are opposed," Tom Delbanco, MD, and Jan Walker, RN, MBA, research partners at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MA, and several co-authors, write in the December issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers divided physicians into two groups: those who participated in the note-sharing study and completed an attitude survey, and nonparticipants who only filled out the survey, but declined to engage  in the note-sharing process.

Overall, as many as 81% of participating physicians thought open visit notes were a good idea, but only 33% of the nonparticipating doctors felt they were, the report said.

However, patients were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the note sharing, with 97% believing it would improve their understanding and involvement in their own care. Patient enthusiasm extended across age, education and health status, and 22% anticipated sharing their visit notes with other people, including  doctors.

Physicians were mostly concerned about their notes having one major negative impact on patients: Giving them cause to worry.

Joe Cantlupe Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.Twitter

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