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Collaborating With Patients On Visit Agendas Improves Communication

Posted on April 26, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Maybe it’s because I spent many years as a reporter, but when I meet with a doctor I get all of my questions out, even if I don’t plan things out in advance. I realize that this barrage may be unnerving for some doctors, but if I need to fire off a bunch of questions to understand my care, I’m going to do it.

That being said, I realize most people are more like my family members. Both my husband and my mother feel overwhelmed at medical visits, and often fail to ask the questions they want answered. I don’t know if they feel pressured by the rapid pace of your typical medical visit, afraid to offend their doctor or have trouble figuring out what information will help them most effectively, but clearly, they don’t feel in control of the situation.

Given their concerns, I wasn’t surprised to learn that letting patients create and share an agenda for their medical visit – before they see their provider – seems to improve physician-patient communication substantially. New research suggests that when patients set the agenda for their visit, both the patient and their doctor like the results.

Study details

The paper, which appeared in the Annals of Family Medicine, said that researchers conducted their study at Harborview Medical Center, a safety-net county hospital in Seattle. The researchers recruited patients and clinicians for the study between June 9 and July 22, 2015 at the HMC Adult Medicine Clinic. The 67-clinician primary care clinic serves about 5,000 patients per year.

When participating patients came in for a visit, a researcher assistant met them in the waiting room and gave them a laptop computer with the EMR interface displayed. The participating patients then typed their agenda for the visit in the progress notes section of their medical record. Clinicians then reviewed that agenda, either before entering the exam room or upon entering.

After the visit, patients were given a survey asking them for demographic information, self-reported health status and perceptions of the agenda-driven visit. Meanwhile, clinicians filled out a separate survey asking them for their gender, age, role in the clinic and their own perceptions of the patient agenda.

After reviewing the survey data, researchers concluded that using a collaborative visit agenda is probably a good idea. Seventy nine percent of patients and 74 percent of clinicians felt the agendas improved patient-clinician communication, and both types of participants wanted to use visit agendas agenda (73 percent of patients and 82 percent of clinicians).

Flawed but still valuable

In closing, the authors admitted that the study had its technical limits, including the use of a small convenient sample at a single clinic with no comparison group, It’s also worth noting that the study drew from a vulnerable population which might not be representative of most healthcare consumers.

Nonetheless, researchers feel these data points to a broader trend, in which patients have become increasingly comfortable with electronic health data. “The patient cogeneration of visit notes, facilitated by new EMR functionality, reflects a shift in the authorship and “ownership” of [their data],” the study points out. (I can’t help but agree that this is the case, and moreover, that patients’ response to programs  like Open Notes support their conclusion.)

I’m not sure if my mom or hubby would buy into this approach, but I imagine that if they did, they might find it helpful. Let’s hope the idea catches fire, and helps ordinary consumers take more control of their clinical relationships.

Patients Want Access To Physician Notes Despite Privacy Concerns

Posted on October 4, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

While privacy concerns remain, patients’ desire to access their medical records online seems to outweigh those concerns, according to a study reported in iHealthBeat.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, included 3,874 primary care patients at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger Health System and Harborview Medical Center. Each of these institutions implemented OpenNotes, a portal which allows patients to read the notes written by their doctors following office visits, e-mail correspondence and phone calls. The patients were able to view the notes via the portals where other parts of their medical records are stored.

Researchers interviewed patients at baseline, prior to their using the OpenNotes portal. They were interviewed again after a one year period during which they were able to use the OpenNotes portal to review the notes doctors made during their visits.

Privacy remained a concern throughout the study period, iHealthBeat noted. At the study’s outset, about 33 percent of OpenNotes project participants reported having concerns about privacy;  meanwhile, almost 37 percent said they were concerned about privacy after the one year period of using the portal.

After using the portal  for a year, 15.5 percent of patients said they were more concerned about privacy, while 12.7 percent said they were less concerned about privacy.

That being said, study participants were still very enthusiastic about having access to the notes. In fact, at the study’s end, 99 percent of participants said they wanted continued access physician notes, despite their initial privacy concerns.

In April of last year, when I first wrote about this project, I  predicted that patients would become very attached to the level of intimacy OpenNotes would offer with their providers.  It seems that this has come to pass. If 99 percent of patients want to continue with the project despite having privacy concerns, that’s a ringing endorsement of the concept. Now, I’m curious as to whether other institutions will get on board.

Geisinger Opens Doctors’ Notes To Patients

Posted on May 15, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Geisinger Health System is kicking off a new program under which more than 100,000 patients will have access to their doctors’ notes. Patients will access the notes through the secure MyGeisinger online patient portal, reports Healthcare Informatics.

The initiative grows out of a pilot, funded by a $1.4 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The OpenNotes project, which lasted 12 months, brought together 105 primary care doctors with more than 19,000 of their patients, in an effort to see how both patients and physicians were affected by the sharing of doctors’ notes after each encounter, according to Healthcare Informatics.

The study group included 24 Geisinger primary care docs and 8,700 patients.  The rest of the patients and doctors  were drawn from Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, Wash., and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Results from the pilot, which were published in the October 2012 Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that patients strongly favored seeing their physician’s notes.  Also, tellingly, no doctors asked to opt out at the study’s end.

Findings showed that patients did indeed read their notes and felt more a part of the care process when they did. Roughly 11,200  patients (or about 82 percent) opened at least one note found in their EMR.

Of patients who opened at least one note, 77 to 87 percent across the three study sites said that OpenNotes made them feel more in control of their care.  Doing so also helped them adhere to their medication regimens, the magazine said. Only a few patients reported higher levels of worry, confusion or offense due to seeing the notes.

Patients liked having the notes access so much that 85 percent reported that it would influence their choice of providers in the future.

It seems that opening up a patient portal isn’t quite the pandora’s box that some thought it could be.

Will “Open Notes” Change EMR Design?

Posted on April 26, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Today I read about a very interesting project focused on improving relationships between physicians and patients. I suspect the concept would make some doctors’ skin crawl — anytime you’re asked to give up over control of information, it smarts a bit — but I suspect we’re seeing a glimpse of the future.

The  OpenNotes project, which is being conducted at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Geisinger Health System and Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, lets patients review the notes, e-mails and phone calls primary care doctors make after their medical appointment. Patients access the information via a secure Web interface.

In July 2010, researchers published baseline findings prior to the OpenNotes kickoff in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Since then, the project seems to have attracted a lot of interest, with more than 100 doctors and 20,000 patients participating.   It’s also gotten a lot of support from foundations;  the group has received grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Pioneer portfolio, the Drane Family Fund, the Koplow Family Foundation and the Katz Family Foundation.

Wondering how participants feel about this level of medical intimacy? Check out the OpenNotes site, where you’ll find a video  offering impressions from patients and doctors on how they feel about their level of communication.  As you’ll see, OpenNotes volunteer patients seem to enjoy having a closer relationship with their doctor, and more importantly, feel empowered to comment or even contradict the doctor if they see something that seems to be out of line.

“You can look at the comments that Bob writes down and sometimes you agree with him and sometimes you don’t,” says one patient. “Sometimes we clash on it, but then we work things out.” (Note the familiar title “Bob” the patient uses to address his doctor, which I doubt he would have otherwise.) Sounds like a better working relationship than I have with most of my providers!

Of course, there’s always questions as to whether approaches like these would work outside the confines of a grant-funded, academically-minded group of institutions and doctors.  Certainly that’s hard to tell. But it seems clear that at minimum, something worthwhile is going on here that might force vendors to think about patient facing data more deeply.  I’m impressed by what I see here and hope that we continue to learn from these efforts.