How Sharing Clinical Notes Affects the Patient-Physician Relationship

When I was in training as a pediatric gastroenterology fellow, one of my mentors relayed a story (perhaps embellished) that a parent had confronted him: “Doctor, I know you are lying to me. You told me my son had Crohn’s disease but the chart said he had TERMINAL ileitis.”

I think many physicians are worried that the mandatory rollout of “open notes” will result in many other questions about documentation that have to be explained. A recent article (R Rubin et al. JAMA. Published online April 7, 2021. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.4755) explains (Full text link) “How Sharing Clinical Notes Affects the Patient-Physician Relationship.”

Key points:

  • In their survey of patients in the Boston, Seattle, and rural Pennsylvania health systems, …among the respondents, 22 947 said they had read at least 1 clinical note and half said they had read at least 4 notes. Only 737 patients said the notes were very confusing.”
    • 11% said they felt judged or offended or both. Those reactions were more common among women and people who reported poor health, unemployment, or inability to work. Among patients’ comments about why they felt judged or offended, the researchers identified 3 main themes: errors and surprises, labeling, and disrespect.
  • Another recent publication based on the patient survey reported that 96% of the patients said they understood all or nearly all of a note they selected from a recent visit…93% agreed or somewhat agreed that the note accurately described the visit, while 6% said something important was missing.
  • One of the researcher’s advice to physicians is to write the note as if the patient were sitting beside them, collaborating.
  • Physicians shouldn’t write anything in the health record that the patient doesn’t already know.
  • Many patients don’t even know that notes are available for them to read.

My take: As noted in the article, office notes have been used mainly for communication between physicians and to support billing. Whether open notes can lead to more engagement of patients and provide health benefits is uncertain. What is certain is that the availability of these notes is going to alter what becomes part of the medical record.

For more information: Link to OpenNotes website:

From OpenNotes website

More advice from OpenNotes website:

Related blog posts: