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Rush Opens Doctors' Notes to Patients

Transparent medical records can improve communication

By Deb Song

Rush University Medical Center is the first Chicago hospital and one of only two hospitals in Illinois to join a national movement to allow all patients direct, online access to their doctors' notes in their medical records. 

“When a patient is sick, tired or stressed during a doctor’s visit, they may forget what the doctor said or prescribed,” said Allison Weathers, MD, associate chief medical information officer at Rush. “We wanted to address this issue by giving all of our patients’ secure, online access to their doctor’s notes after a visit.”

To achieve this goal, Rush has implemented an information system called OpenNotes, which provides online, round-the-clock access to doctors' notes. Patients already were given access to physician instructions, next steps, prescriptions and test orders.

OpenNotes was made available February through Rush’s secure patient portal called MyChart.

Such online patient portals have become an important patient engagement strategy that allows patients to see their health information and that can enable them to participate more actively in care.

Patients currently can use MyChart to perform health management activities such as filling prescriptions or scheduling appointments, and they also can communicate with their health care team using MyChart’s secure messaging function.

MyChart already enables Rush patients to view laboratory test results, and now through OpenNotes they also can see what their physicians have written in their medical record.

“Our goal is to provide the highest quality care and involve patients in managing their care. To do that, we need to increase transparency, communication and trust between patients and physicians,” Weathers said.

OpenNotes has increased patients’ engagement in their health care

Navigating health system demands and managing treatments can be difficult, particularly for individuals with complex health needs who are often under the care of multiple providers.

“Research shows that when patients can access their physicians' notes, they better understand their medical issues and treatment plan as active partners in their care,” Weathers said. 

This better understanding in turn leads to improved patient engagement, patient empowerment and communication.

A national study in 2010 funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy organization devoted exclusively to health and health care,tested the OpenNotes concept with 105 primary care physicians and more than 13,000 patients during a year-long voluntary program.

  • Patients in the study reported the following improvements in their engagement with their health care:
  • Better recall after visits
  • Feeling more in control of their care
  • Better communication and collaboration with their doctor
  • Feeling better educated
  • Taking medications more effectively
  • Preventing important mistakes
  • Sharing their notes with family, friends and health professionals

The findings were published in the Oct. 2, 2012, issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"Patients expect and deserve to have full access to their medical records and Rush is committed to meeting this expectation," said Weathers.

Rush Patients can access their doctors' notes by going to MyChart.

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