Researchers ID what patients value about access to visit notes

Electronic health records (EHRs) have become an integral part of U.S. healthcare organizations. Many are now offering patients the ability to review notes taken during their visits by their physicians through secure patient portals. A recent study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, from researchers at OpenNotes and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center showcases exactly what patients value in being able to view visit notes.

Using a patient feedback tool linked to patients EHRs, researchers collected feedback from 260 patients and providers over the course of a year to evaluate quality and safety improvements, as well as identifying what patients value in visit notes.

"When experts talk about the power of health information technology, we often hear about efforts to make care more patient- and family-centered, but we've heard very little about what matters to the patients themselves, perhaps because information sharing has been largely one-way and passive," said lead author, Macda Gerard, a research assistant at OpenNotes and a first-year medical student at Wayne State University in Detroit. "We hope that having a better understanding of what patient’s value about the transparent exchange of health information will guide efforts to improve engagement, the patient experience, and the overall quality of care."

Results showed 98.5 percent of respondents reported the tool as valuable to their care, with 68.8 percent appreciating access to their notes. Researchers noted four themes on what patients specifically value: confirming and remembering next steps, faster access and results, positive emotions and sharing information to care partners. Additional themes on patient use of notes and the feedback tool included accuracy, engagement, bidirectional communication and the importance of feedback.

"When we asked patients what they liked about gaining access to the content of their notes, four themes emerged," said Gerard. "Patients appreciated the ability to confirm and remember next steps and welcomed quicker access to results. They reported that reading the notes helped them feel heard and gain confidence in their providers, and they valued the opportunity to share information with care partners."

"Even though this is a small pilot initiative, our findings are heartening. We believe that providing easier access to visit notes and asking for feedback sends a powerful message of inclusivity to patients and families," said senior author Sigall Bell, MD, OpenNotes Director of Patient Safety and Discovery. "This feedback gives us the ability to bring patient and family voices more consistently to health decisions, system design and patient activation tools so that patients can engage in ways that matter most to them."