Tuesday, February 21, 2012

“Please Give Me My Test Results (Not Just An Interpretation)” (posted 9/6/2011): A Relevant New Study

Last Sunday night’s edition of NPR’s “Sound Medicine” featured an interview with Tom Delbanco, MD, of Harvard Medical School about the OpenNotes Project, a new study by to find out what happens when patients have free access to their medical records, including doctors’ notes.  Although American patients have the legal right to see their medical records, doctors typically do not offer to share their visit notes with patients.

For one year, starting in the summer of 2010, 110 doctors in three diverse locations, suburban Boston, rural Pennsylvania, and inner city Seattle, regularly shared their notes with patients.  The study followed these doctors, as well as others who had refused to participate.  Initially, many doctors were concerned that the process would be too time-consuming, would confuse or frighten patients, or might expose doctors to more liability.  At the end of the study, however, not one of the participating doctors wanted to discontinue sharing notes with patients.

Investigators were surprised to find that patients of all ages, economic groups, and levels of education were enthusiastic about the process.  Some believed that it would foster trust and understanding and allow them to have more involvement in their medical care.  Others indicated that it might cause them to take their medications more regularly.  Fifty percent of patients said they might share their medical information with other people, such as family members or friends.

Dr. Delbanco characterized the process as a form of new medicine that will probably not be suitable for every patient.  He said that doctors will need to learn how to use this new tool wisely. 

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