Be an Informed Patient and Get Healthier

Be an Informed Patient and Get Healthier

If you’ve ever wondered what your doc is scribbling in your file or entering into a computer during your medical appointment, you’re not alone. More than 90% of us want to see our doctors’ notes. And luckily, millions of American healthcare consumers do.

The success of a groundbreaking new open medical records program has both of us cheering. The program gave over 13,500 patients in three big health systems access to their doctors’ notes for one year. The patients couldn’t wait to read their charts; up to 92% checked them at least once. The results were amazing:

  • Up to 85% said they had a better understanding of their health and medical conditions
  • Up to 87% felt more in control of their healthcare
  • Up to 72% took better care of themselves
  • Up to 78% did better with taking medications
  • Up to 42% shared the notes with a close friend or family member (a great way to get support and encouragement for staying healthy!)
  • 99% wanted to keep seeing their charts after the study ended

The docs were enthusiastic, too. Many said their patient relationships had improved, with more trust, better communication and stronger partnerships for good health. All of the docs opted to make their notes available to their patients after the study ended.

Now, this breakthrough is rolling out across North America. Several big health systems like The Cleveland Clinic, where Dr. Mike is in charge of wellness, are making doc notes and medical records available to any and all of their patients through electronic media. In August, the Canadian Medical Journal called for open doc notes too, urging an end to the “hoops and speed bumps” that leave patients waiting nearly three months (and footing the bill for paper copies) for info that’s rightfully theirs.

How to Get the Info That’s Already Yours
In the US, healthcare consumers have had the legal right to see their doctors’ notes, along with lab test results and other info in their medical files, since 1996 (earlier in some states). But while it’s been easy for docs and even insurance companies to peek at this oh-so-personal info, patients were stymied by lots of red tape and copying fees. Some even had to sue to see their files!

So if you don’t already have access, ask your doc if you can see your notes -- and the rest of your medical records. Then do this:

#1. Look for -- and correct – errors. An accurate record could save your life in the emergency room, not to mention avoiding confusion in your regular care in the future.

#2. Keep track of your meds and test results. Having an up-to-date list of the drugs you take is on our list of the smart habits of highly effective healthcare consumers; so is knowing your health metrics, like blood pressure, blood sugar, LDL cholesterol and results of other tests, too.

#3. Doc not ready to go public with his notes? Show him this column. And point him to www.myopennotes.org, the website of the Open Notes study, for important info about sharing medical records with patients. Be patient -- docs may need to change the way they make notes so you don’t misunderstand their shorthand.

Medically reviewed in July 2019.

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