With electronic records now a mainstay of medicine, most patients can easily look up their lab results, medication orders and immunization records.
But few can access doctor notes summarizing their clinic visits. That will soon change at SSM Health Dean Medical Group, and it’s likely coming to other Madison-area providers, too.
Through the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality, Dean has committed to implementing OpenNotes, a national movement to share doctor notes in medical records.
Starting in July, Dean doctors will be able to let patients see their notes through Epic’s MyChart online portal, said Dr. Larry Elfman, Dean’s medical informatics director. Early next year, the sharing will become automatic.
“This now becomes complete transparency,” said Elfman, a pediatrician. “It’s a final step in complete patient engagement with their care.”
The notes include medical history, the reason for a visit, a summary of the doctor’s examination and test results, and a treatment plan. Doctors verbally share much of the information with patients, but some patients forget much of it, Elfman said.
By sharing notes, “You have the chance to go back and read it again, even a month later or two months later,” he said. “It absolutely helps with retention, and it helps patients adhere better to their medical plan and treatment.”
More than 13 million Americans in 37 states have access to doctor notes, according to OpenNotes, an initiative sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
In Wisconsin, health care organizations that allow access to doctor notes include Agnesian Healthcare in Fond du Lac; Allina Health Prescott Clinic; Ascension/Columbia St. Mary’s in Milwaukee; Essentia Health in northern Wisconsin; Fort HealthCare in Fort Atkinson; and Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire and La Crosse.
Dean will soon join them, as will Gundersen Health System in La Crosse; Mercyhealth in Janesville; ProHealth Care in Waukesha; and ThedaCare in Appleton, according to the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality.
UW Health isn’t on the list, but Dr. David Kuntsman said the health system plans to start OpenNotes early next year.
UnityPoint Health-Meriter is “actively discussing” OpenNotes but hasn’t set a timeline for launching it, spokeswoman Leah Huibregtse said.
“We look forward to offering this increased level of transparency with our patients in the future,” Huibregtse said.
To help patients understand doctor notes, Dean will encourage doctors to avoid jargon and include hyperlinks to a medical dictionary with certain terms, Elfman said.
Doctor notes vary in length and complexity, he said.
“They can be quite short, if you’re coming in for a wart or a sore throat,” Elfman said. “If you’re coming in with diabetes and congestive heart failure and (lung disease), they can be quite long.”