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Why doctors notes should be open to patients

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Why doctors notes should be open to patients

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Earlier this summer I looked at the exchange of information between doctors and their patients, and in particular the exchange of knowledge that each party enters the relationship with.  It comes at a time when patients are increasingly researching their conditions prior to appointments, and therefore come armed with a level of knowledge perhaps not seen before.

Now, of course, not all of their research will un-earth accurate and reputable knowledge, but unless a conversation takes place to discuss this, it’s quite possible that the doctor will be unaware of just what study the patient is doing into their condition.

Of course, another aspect of the transparent sharing of information between the doctor and patient is the opening up of the notes made about a patient by the doctor.  At the moment, this is far from common practice, but a study from a few years ago suggests it really should be.

The study saw over 100 doctors share their notes with around 14,000 patients.  The findings were overwhelmingly positive, for both doctors and their patients.  More than 85% of the patients given access to their notes regularly accessed them, with the benefits quite wide ranging.

“Different patients get different things from reading the notes,” said Jan Walker, principal associate in medicine at Harvard Medical School. She and Dr. Tom Delbanco, a professor of medicine at Harvard, were the principal investigators for the project.

Some, for instance, used the notes to spur changes in lifestyle and behaviour.  Others reported that reading their notes gave them a feeling of greater control over their care, whilst those prescribed drugs felt the notes were helpful in the correct application of those drugs.

What’s more, nearly half of patients shared their notes with others, especially with spouses or family members.  The project also proved popular with doctors, and overcame their initial fears that it would be time consuming.

When the project concluded and the doctors were told they could turn off the electronic note access, “Not a single doctor turned it off,” Walker said.

This feeling was shared by patients, with 99% revealing that they wanted to continue seeing their notes.  Findings such as these have prompted a change in the industry, with something like 3 million American patients now having access to their doctors’ notes.

The trend is also beginning to take hold in the UK, with some doctors leading the way ahead of a promise by the NHS to provide patients with online access to their records by next year.  The authors of the Harvard study suggest that the next step will be to encourage patients and doctors to work on the notes collaboratively.  Now that would be a step in the right direction.

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