When patients see their medical record

Traditionally, the patient chart stayed in the doctors office and rarely did a patient get a glimpse of anything in the record.  Photocopying the chart is expensive and no physician would let a chart leave her office because the record must be held safely for a minimum of 7 years.   Now more and more offices are doing away with clunky paper charts and electronic medical records are becoming the norm.  With electronic portals, is there any reason a patient shouldn’t have access to their own medical record?

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that up to 97% of patients queried thought the ability to have “open visit chart notes” was a good thing.  Doctors weren’t quite so eager.

The study found that doctors worried that open visit notes would result in greater confusion and worry among patients and they anticipated more patient questions between visits.  But the patients overwhelmingly wanted to see the notes and were not worried about being confused.   They thought seeing their own record would provide information that would help them be healthier.  They could see the treatment plans and the test results directly.

One of the study authors, Dr.  Joann Elmore at University of Washington School of Medicine, said that access to records is important for indigent patients or people who move frequently for continuity of care.

It is a new world of sharing of information and there is no reason medicine shouldn’t be part of the change.  Patients have access to research studies on-line as well as multiple medical websites  to look things up. (Some  are just junk and filled with ads).   If open records helps create a dialog about good health and allows patients to understand and take ownership of their own life it can only be a good thing.

I do worry a bit about the overly obsessive patient who might misinterpret every slight lab value that is outside of normal.  They will need to understand that not everything carries the same weight in medicine and slight variations of normal can in fact be … normal.

Toni Brayer is an internal medicine physician who blogs at EverythingHealth.

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