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17 June 2019

Patients who read doctors' notes more likely to take their meds

According to a survey, sharing doctors' clinical notes with patients is an effective, relatively low-cost, low-touch intervention.

Reading the notes your doctor makes during your visit appears to be good medicine.

An online survey of 20 000 adults treated at three US health systems that have made clinical notes available to patients for several years finds that those who actually read them may be more likely to take medications as prescribed.

More likely to take medications

Patients listed several benefits of reading the notes: 64% said doing so helped them understand why a medication was prescribed; 62% felt more in control of their medications; 57% said the notes answered questions about medications; and 61% felt more comfortable with their prescriptions.

And 14% of patients at two of the health systems – Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston and Geisinger in rural Pennsylvania – said they were more likely to take their medications as prescribed after reading doctors' notes, the study found.

Meanwhile, 33% of patients at the University of Washington Medicine in Seattle, the third health system studied, considered clinical notes very helpful.

"Sharing clinical notes with patients is a relatively low-cost, low-touch intervention," lead author Catherine DesRoches, executive director of OpenNotes at BIDMC, said in a news release.

Though sharing notes is a cultural shift, electronic health record systems make it easier, she said, adding that the payoff could be "enormous" because poor adherence to medications costs the health care system about $300 billion (just under R4.5 trillion) a year.

Transparent communication

"Anything that we can do to improve adherence to medications has significant value," DesRoches said.

Patients whose primary language was not English and those with lower levels of education were more likely to report benefits from being able to read their doctor's notes, according to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Still, this kind of transparent communication initially makes doctors uneasy, said study co-author Dr Tom Delbanco, co-founder of OpenNotes.

"They worry about many things, including potential effects on their workflow, and scaring their patients. But once they start, we know of few doctors who decide to stop, and patients overwhelmingly love it," he added in the news release. "The promise it holds for medication adherence is enormous, and we are really excited by these findings."

An accompanying editorial by Dr David Blumenthal and Melinda Abrams of the Commonwealth Fund noted that transparency is mandated by federal law and policy.

"Our challenge now is to make the best and most of shared health care information as a tool for clinical management and health improvement," Blumenthal and Abrams wrote.

Image credit: iStock

 
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