Ever wondered what your doctor wrote about you?

Oregon Public Broadcasting recently ran a story about “Open Notes,” a program that several health care organizations in the Northwest have adopted that will allow patients to read their chart notes online. At Happy Doc Family Medicine, my patients have had this ability for some time now through Portal Connect, my patient portal. 

Of course by law all patients have the right to obtain their full medical records, but most don’t go to the trouble of formally requesting their records, perhaps paying a printing fee, and waiting for them to arrive in the mail. As online portals become more popular for medical practices, it’s easy for patients to log on and see not just their lab results and medication lists, but the actual notes their physicians write about them.

Like many physicians, I was initially nervous about giving my patients such easy access to their notes through the online portal. I was worried that they wouldn’t understand the note because of all the acronyms and medical jargon. What if my patients get offended, for example if they see the word “obesity” in their chart? 

After giving it some thought, I realized this was just another example of physicians being worried about stripping away protective barriers between us and our patients. I develop close relationships with my patients and I want them to know what it is I am thinking and documenting in their medical record. I invite their questions or clarifications, and if a term like “obesity” causes distress, all the better that we talk about it out in the open. 

Since I made my chart notes available to patients online, I’ve had nothing but positive feedback. People tell me they like the transparency and the ability to see exactly what has been written about them. They feel more engaged in their health care. They don’t wonder what I am writing about them in secret. I’m glad to hear other clinics are also now sharing these notes so freely.