Physicians react: Doctors worry about patients reading their clinical notes


Will Open Notes erode patient communication?

One physician questioned whether it would lead to patients being less open and forthcoming about their medical concerns with doctors.

“The main problem I see is the patient not telling me the whole story, or worse, telling me the story, and then asking me not to document it (as many have done in the past) because they don’t want their spouse, family, etc. to read the notes and they have already given their permission for them to do so, for a variety of reasons,” he commented. “This includes topics of STDs, infidelity, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other symptoms the patient doesn’t want their family to read about.”

Some physicians envision positive developments

Many physicians are unconcerned by the new mandate. “I see some potential good in this, such as improving doctor-patient communication and more scrupulous charting,” one physician said.

A doctor working in the U.S. federal health care system noted that open access has been a part of that system for decades.

“Since health care providers work in this unveiled setting for their entire career, they usually know how to write appropriate clinical notes and what information needs to be included in them,” he wrote. “Now it’s time for the rest of the medical community to catch up to a reality that we have worked within for decades now.

“The world did not end, malpractice complaints did not increase, and physician/patient relationships were not damaged. Living in the information age, archaic practices like private notes were surely going to end at some point.”

One doctor who has been using Open Notes has had experiences in which the patient noted an error in the medical chart that needed correcting. “I have had one patient correct me on a timeline in the HPI which was helpful and I made the requested correction in that instance,” he said.

Another physician agreed. “I’ve had patients add or correct valuable information I’ve missed. Good probably outweighs the bad if we set limits on behaviors expressed by the personality disordered group. The majority of people don’t seem to care and still ask me ‘what would you do’ or ‘tell me what to do.’ It’s all about patient/physician trust.”

Another talked about how Open Notes should have little or no impact. “Here’s a novel concept – talking to our patients,” he commented. “There is nothing in every one of my chart notes that has not already been discussed with my patients and I dictate (speech to text) my findings and plan in front of them. So, if they are reviewing my office notes, it will only serve to reinforce what we have already discussed.”

“I don’t intend to change anything,” he added. “Chances are if they were to see a test result before I have a chance to discuss it with them, they will have already ‘Googled’ its meaning and we can have more meaningful interaction if they have a basic understanding of the test.”

“I understand that this is anxiety provoking, but in general I think it is appropriate for patients to have access to their notes,” said another physician. “If physicians write lousy notes that say they did things they didn’t do, that fail to actually state a diagnosis and a plan (and they often do), that is the doc’s problem, not the patient’s.”

A version of this article first appeared on


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