Patients learning to read their doctors’ notes: the importance of reminders

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Objective To examine whether patients invited to review their clinicians’ notes continue to access them and to assess the impact of reminders on whether patients continued to view notes.

Materials and methods We followed OpenNotes trial participants for 2 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Geisinger Health System (GHS). Electronic invitations alerting patients to signed notes stopped at GHS after year 1, creating a natural experiment to assess the impact of reminders. We used generalized linear models to measure whether notes were viewed within 30 days of availability.

Results We identified 14 360 patients (49 271 visits); mean age 52.2; 57.8% female. In year 1, patients viewed 57.5% of their notes, and their interest in viewing notes persisted over time. In year 2, BIDMC patients viewed notes with similar frequency. In contrast, GHS patients viewed notes far less frequently, a change starting when invitations ceased (RR 0.29 [0.26–0.32]) and persisting to the end of the study (RR 0.20 [0.17–0.23]). A subanalysis of BIDMC patients revealed that black and other/multiracial patients also continued to view notes, although they were overall less likely to view notes compared with whites (RR 0.75 [0.67–0.83] and 0.93 [0.89–0.98], respectively).

Discussion As millions of patients nationwide increasingly gain access to clinicians’ notes, explicit email invitations to review notes may be important for fostering patient engagement and patient-doctor communication.

Conclusion Note viewing persists when accompanied by email alerts, but may decline substantially in their absence. Non-white patients at BIDMC viewed notes less frequently than whites, although their interest also persisted.

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