Monday, October 11, 2010

Client News: WellSpan Physicians Sharing Their Notes With Patients

Source: WellSpan Newsletter

Before Ann Hagerty left Apple Hill Internal Medicine after her appointment with Dr. Brian Pollak, she received a preliminary copy of his notes pertaining to her visit.

The sheet included the physician’s assessment, orders needed and future plan of care. “Having a copy of the notes is very valuable to me,” said Hagerty.

“It lets me know what transpired. If I didn’t pick up on something during the appointment, I’ll be able to re-read the notes.

“The notes are clear and understandable,” she added. “I took a copy of the notes of my most recent visit with me when I traveled to Russia.

I knew they would come in handy if I had any medical emergency.” “By sharing our notes with patients, they are better informed, have a chance to make any corrections or amendments to the notes and are more of a partner in their care,” said Pollak.

Pollak said Apple Hill Internal Medicine physicians have shared their notes with patients for about three years. Physicians at Aspers Health Center also share their notes.

“Our patients appreciate receiving the notes,” he said. “I believe it helps strengthen the relationship between physicians and patients.

It’s also an excellent communication tool, which is valuable to patients as well as other physicians.” While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, gave all patients the legal right to read and even amend their own medical records in 1996, few practices share notes with their patients.

“Our hope is that more practices will share notes with their patients,” said Dr. Hal Baker, vice president and chief information officer for WellSpan. Baker also practices at Apple Hill Internal Medicine.

Physicians have long cited a number of concerns about sharing notes. The concerns include: patients misinterpreting medical information and diagnoses, creating unnecessary stress and patients’ unfamiliarity with medical terms and abbreviations.

“The same concerns come up time and time again,” said Baker. “But, there’s little evidence to support those concerns.”

Baker hopes that an on-going study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will alleviate physicians’ concerns and demonstrate the value of sharing notes.

Open Notes, the largest study of open access, was initiated this past summer. The study involves more than 100 primary care physicians and approximately 25,000 patients from three large health care centers across the United States.

In the study, patients who have just seen their doctors will receive an email message directing them to a secure website where they can view signed physician notes.

Researchers will analyze the expectations and experiences of patients and physicians. They also will examine the number of additional phone calls, emails and visits that may arise as a result of more patients viewing their doctors’ notes.

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