Patients Reading Their Physicians’ Notes Online: A Sign of the Times?

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , July 29, 2010

"I think [patients] should be put to work a little bit...but not in a bad way. If you put them to work, they become engaged in their healthcare," he says.  Right now, healthcare is often viewed by patients as something that "you go to and you get"--akin to going to a movie where you watch and walk out.


"You don't get involved in the process. You're a passive observer," he says. Making physicians' visit notes available might change this.

"Right now patients have no idea what goes into their healthcare. Study after study has shown that patients don't retain what we tell them in a visit," he adds. With a combination of shorter medical visits and overwhelmed patients, sometimes the discussions—about medications, symptoms, or tests—may be cut short.

Viewing physician notes may help them understand better what is going on—and may help physicians as well. "[Patients] may go into their notes, and they can actually see it: [how to] help me help them—which to me is an exciting concept," he says. "I'm not trying to solve all of society's ills, but if I can get a patient to help me help them, they'll get better care." 

The results of this study, which is being funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are another year off: The researchers will use pre- and post-viewing surveys to gauge the reactions of both physicians and patients.

For most patients at Beth Israel and even Geisinger, many patients have become familiar with using an electronic portal. "They're used to getting notified [online so] this isn't a radical shift from an infrastructure standpoint," Feldman says.

But from a relationship standpoint, "this is a disruptive technology," he quips. "For the first time, we're letting patients see behind the mask." While patients may be "underwhelmed" in the long run, "I hope it's going to spark them to become engaged—at least to try and figure out what the gobbledygook was that we wrote in the chart."

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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