The Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, a 1996 law known as HIPAA, protects a patient’s right to see and get a copy of personal health records, but for some patients and doctors, it has caused concern. Many patients are using electronic health records to readily view their records at anytime.
According to OpenNotes, an organization that advocates for routine patient access to medical notes, more than 27 million Americans now can see what doctors and nurses write about them. Proponents of open notes say access gives patients more ownership of their medical records — and therefore their health. But some doctors say that medical records — traditionally used to communicate with other healthcare professionals — may be confusing or frightening to patients. Many doctors worry that explaining their notes to patients will be one more task that will eat into their evenings and weekends.
Rachael Postman, a family nurse practitioner and assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University, says the majority of her patients are grateful for shared notes. However, there have been a few cases that were difficult to navigate. One patient disagreed with Postman’s assessment that she was dependent on opioids. Another was upset when the gender label in the chart didn’t match a transgender patient’s identity.
Despite these concerns, freer access to medical records has been well-received by doctors and their patients. A 2012 study of an OpenNotes pilot found that 99 percent of patients were in favor of the project continuing and that none of the participating doctors wanted to drop out.