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11-10-2012 | General practice | Article

Access to records ‘empowers patients’

Abstract

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medwireNews: Giving patients access to their GP records helps them to feel more in control of their care and also improves their adherence to medications, suggests research from the USA.

The study included 13,564 patients who were invited to view their primary care doctors' notes via a secure internet portal, of whom 11,797 opened at least one note over the following year. Among 5,391 of these patients who then also completed a survey about their perceptions, around four-fifths said that being able to read their notes helped them to feel more in control of their care, while around two-thirds of those who were taking medications reported increased medication adherence.

The study was conducted across three primary care practices, including 105 primary care physicians. Importantly, the authors say, the doctors themselves experienced "no more than a modest effect on their work lives".

Jan Walker (Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts) and colleagues report that few doctors reported longer visits (0-5%) or more time addressing patients' questions outside of visits (0-8%) after access was given. But between 3% and 36% reported changing the content of notes and up to a fifth took more time writing them.

Nevertheless, doctors seemed positive about the impact of opening up access, frequently reporting that it had strengthed relationships with some of their patients. Doctors also noted quite often that some patients seemed more activated or empowered.

Between 1% and 8% of patients reported that the notes caused them confusion, while a more substantial minority, between 26% and 36%, had privacy concerns, and 20% to 42% reported sharing notes with others.

"The patients in this large-scale trial reported striking benefits and presented a clear mandate to continue open notes. The doctors encountered few problems, and we hope that the problems that exist can be overcome with further analysis, education, and experimentation," write the authors, who also say they believe that "open notes seem worthy of widespread adoption".

medwireNews (www.medwire-news.md) is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Caroline Price, Senior medwireNews Reporter