Whereas patients expressed enthusiasm about sharing access to medical
records, physicians had more concerns about the practices implications,
according to two studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The goal of [programs to access
personal health records] is to more fully integrate all
aspects of the patients health and health care, thus promoting active,
ongoing patient collaboration in care delivery and decision-making,
Donna M. Zulman, MD, MS, of the Center for Health Care Evaluation at
Veteran Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, and colleagues wrote.
Difference of opinion
To gauge physicians and patients attitudes towards sharing
access to medical records, Jan Walker, RN, MBA, of the Beth Israel Deaconess
Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, and colleagues surveyed patients and
primary care physicians from three primary care practices in Massachusetts,
Pennsylvania and Washington about OpenNotes, a program that provides electronic
access to physicians notes.
Thomas W. Feeley
According to study results, 69% to 81% of PCPs who participated in the
program and 92% to 97% of patients expressed positive opinions about OpenNotes
vs. 16% to 33% of nonparticipating PCPs. Data also showed that 71% to 77% of
participating physicians vs. 29% to 58% of nonparticipating physicians thought
patient satisfaction would improve. In addition, participating physicians were
more confident that patient safety would improve (36% to 62%), as compared with
nonparticipating physicians (18% to 33%).
More than half of participating physicians and the majority of
nonparticipating physicians thought that access to their notes would increase
patients worry about their health. Only a minority of patients, however,
considered this a concern.
In a second survey, Zulman and colleagues polled 18,741 patients who
used a Web-based personal health record system, My HealtheVet,
maintained by Veterans Affairs about their views on sharing access to their
personal health records.
Researchers found that 79% of patients would share personal health
records with someone outside the VA health system. Sixty-two percent wanted to
share access with a spouse or partner; 23% with a child; 15% with other family
members; 7% with an unrelated caregiver; and 2% with a friend or neighbor.
Almost half of patients who elected to share personal health records with a
family member other than a spouse or partner lived apart from the specified
person, according to the data.
Study results also showed that patients had high levels of interest in
allowing unrelated caregivers to conduct activities in their personal health
record, such as requesting prescription refills or scheduling appointments.
Kenneth I. Shine
In an accompanying editorial, Thomas W. Feeley, MD, of the
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Kenneth I.
Shine, MD, of the University of Texas System in Austin, addressed privacy
concerns, concluding that patients have a right to view and control access to
their medical records. Feeley and Shine also agreed that sharing access to
medical records could greatly improve communication, engage patients in
their care and help them formulate questions in advance of a visit on the basis
of prior notes and test results.
We believe that the direction is clear:
Technology is a powerful tool that can improve transparency
in health care, Feeley and Shine wrote. Expanding who uses the
records and how they use them promises to facilitate communication, decrease
redundant testing and enhance our care delivery in ways we have yet to
For more information:
- Feeley T. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155:853-854.
- Walker J. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155:811-819.
- Zulman D. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155:805-810.
Disclosure: Dr. Darer received a grant from the Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation. Dr. Leveille received a grant, consulting fees and
honorarium, and travel support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr.
Shine is a board member for and receives stock from United Health Group. Drs.
Woods and Zulman are employed at the Veterans Health Administration.
These two fascinating surveys of the potential impact of patients' open
access to their medical records show that the physician impression about the
value of an "open records" changed from a doubting Tom to fairly enthusiastic
supporter. As we work to reform healthcare in this country, part of reform has
to include empowering patients and families to take a more active role in
providing care and in the prevention of avoidable events. Transparency leads to
a better understanding of their illness and hopefully better compliance to
treatment plans and prevention. This moves the patient to be an active and no
longer passive participant in their care.
W. Douglas Weaver, MD
Today Editorial Board member