The doctors were apprehensive about opening their notes to their patients. “It will only lead to confusion,” said some. “My practice will be overwhelmed by phone calls,” they said. Yet 105 doctors agreed to open their records to more than 13,000 patients in an experiment called OpenNotes, published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine (October 1, 2012).
The doctors’ concerns didn’t pan out after all. In fact, after the study ended, not one of the doctors elected to stop sharing their notes with their patients. From the patients’ perspective, “we were thrilled by what we learned,” said Dr. Tom Delbanco, one of the study’s lead authors. “We had no clue that so many patients would read their notes, and that they would be as enthusiastic and report so many clinically important changes in their behavior” (Reuters Health).
This study isn’t the first to open doctors’ notes to patients. Dr. Thomas Feeley said it confirms what he and his colleagues have experienced over the past several years at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “There are no downsides to doing it — patients don’t get worried [or] anxious about it,” Dr. Feeley told Reuters Health. He adds that this new evidence should reassure doctors who have been “on the fence” about opening up their notes to their patients.
In some practices, this may mean making notes available to patients online. In others, the policy might be to mail doctors’ notes to patients after every visit or simply print them out as the patient goes out the door.
Ken Teufel, M.D.
Ken Teufel is the Medical Director for Interim Physicians