Active Engagement, Optimal Care: The Electronic Medical Record

Studies released this month by researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and OpenNotes shed new light on the nature of the electronic medical record, or “EHR.” Today, most healthcare organizations in the United States have adopted some form of EHR, which includes notes and observations inputted by doctors, nurses, therapists, and receptionists. Electronic records are dynamic, updated with each patient interaction – but they’ve also proven volatile, their convenience marred by some of the growing pains inherent to any new technology. EHRs, for example, are commonly cited as the number one nuisance to aging doctors, for whom adopting new technology poses a significant challenge.

Yet these Boston-based findings stand in support of the EHR, suggesting that the records may be just as handy to patients as they are to their healthcare providers. With patient safety at the pinnacle of the discussion, researchers noted online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research that a “transparent exchange of health information” – or, patient access to their own EHRs – could “improve engagement, the patient experience, and the overall quality of care.”

The Data Is In: Patients Want to See!

Perhaps to the despair of technology-adverse healthcare workers, the research overwhelmingly supports the idea that patients appreciated – and in some cases felt that they deserved – access to their medical records. The study’s lead author Macda Gerard, a research assistant at OpenNotes, explained that patients value the opportunity to confirm next steps and monitor their own progress—in essence, they “welcomed quicker access to results.” Furthermore, keeping the patients in the loop seemed to increase their confidence—and their trust in and respect for their healthcare providers.

Records Break the Ice

As healthcare workers, we spend our lives focusing on patient safety—yet we often forget what it’s like to meet a new doctor, nurse, aide, or therapist for the first time. Gerard reported that patients complained about “white coat syndrome,” in which they felt nervous in a doctor’s office—so nervous, perhaps, that they forgot critical questions or requests. Access to their own records often helped to jog their memories, and they left the appointments feeling satisfied that their needs had been met and their safety had been adequately addressed.

Facilitating A Medical Tête-à-Tête

Though many patients plan their appointments carefully, it’s not always easy to ask the right questions at the right time. Nerves, anxiety, pain, distraction, and confusion are just some of the reasons patients might not express to a healthcare provider what’s truly going on. Yet when doctors and nurses offered to share medical records with their patients, patients reported feeling “better prepared” at follow-up appointments, as well a more in control of their own healthcare path. Patients who understand their medical history feel less at the mercy of a single healthcare provider, and they’re more likely to trust a system that’s gaining popularity – and credibility – all over the world.