Historically, healthcare providers have experienced patients becoming anxious or frustrated without full access to explanations of symptoms, diagnostics, and test results. As of April, there is a federal rule in place that requires healthcare providers to offer patients on-demand, free access to their health data.
There are many benefits to giving patients access to their electronic health records (EHRs) such as better patient understanding and remembrance of treatment plans. With the new federal regulation, patients can also now avoid paying fees, increased wait times, and paperwork.
However, access to patient health information can be a double-edged sword, with accessing EHRs having the opposite effects for some individuals. When given access to their health data, some patients have reported becoming distressed when faced with test results or diagnosis. Patients are accustomed to physicians explaining their records and helping them gain better understanding, so seeing the information out of context can cause confusion. Another issue that comes along with accessible records is breached privacy. One example of this is a parent gaining access to an adolescent’s data without the child's permission.
Not only are patients seeing the negative effects of open access, but physicians as well. There are mixed views on the patient accessibility of health data. Some see chaos and confusion spreading among patients and believe it is the best to withhold or limit patient access.
According to an April study, half of physicians reported that their notes have been less candid as they know patients can now access them. A February study also revealed that 10% of patients felt offended or judged after reading their clinical notes.
With both positives and negatives floating around accessible data, there are several ways systems can mitigate the effects. One of these is to develop apps and services for patients and providers to facilitate a more open and frequent dialogue about a patient’s information. A lack of communication can lead to further confusion, and virtual tools have proven beneficial in many aspects of the healthcare field already.
Giving patients on demand access to their health data can present challenges. However, there are many avenues that allow for patient and provider communication to help patients better understand their EHR. By ensuring that information is contextualized, doctors’ notes are respectful, and that access to physicians for further explanation or clarification is available, providers can ensure that accessing EHRs is a positive and informative experience for all involved.