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OpenNotes Launches Resources to Help Patients Use Clinician Notes

OpenNotes said the tools will help patients understand and be able to use open notes, with special resources touching on specific patient populations, like pediatrics.

Patient advocacy group OpenNotes wants to make it easier for patients to take advantage of open clinical notes through the launch of its online resource, How To Use Open Notes.

Open notes is the practice of letting patients look at the clinical notes their providers write during both physical and mental health encounters. Under the 21st Century Cures Act, patients have a right to look at open notes.

But freeing up patient access to medical notes has not come without controversy. Some doctors have worried that open notes can harm the patient-provider relationship if patients do not like what they see in a note. Others have expressed concern that open notes might confuse patients if they are not familiar with medical jargon.

Data has shown that most of the doctors worried about open notes have started to warm to the practice. Patient access to clinical notes has been tied to better patient engagement, better medication adherence, and reporting of medical errors.

This latest move from OpenNotes intends to support those outcomes and better equip patients with the skills needed to use open notes, ideally ameliorating any lingering provider concerns.

“In the United States patients now have the right to access all of their electronic health information,” Catherine M. DesRoches, DrPH, executive director of OpenNotes, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement announcing the resource.

“We created How to Use Open Notes to make it easier for patients and care partners to take advantage of this recent change in practice,” DesRoches added. “They can now take a more active role in their healthcare, fostering stronger communication and collaboration with their clinicians.”

OpenNotes wrote the online resource with patient health literacy in mind, with the authors stating that How To Use Open Notes has been written for a 5th to 8th-grade reading level. Users can also translate the website into Spanish, although OpenNotes said it plans to translate the resources into more languages in the future.

The website hosts a frequently asked questions page and breaks down the basics of how to get the most out of an open clinician note, how to use open notes to improve patient safety, how to use open notes for mental health, and how to advocate for open notes in a patient and family advisory council (PFAC).

OpenNotes also broke that information down by patient population, giving specific insights into how to use open notes for family caregivers (an adult child caring for an aging parent, for example), children, and teenagers.

Notably, OpenNotes licensed most of the information on the websites under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which means healthcare providers can integrate the tool into their workflows. The information on the website can be copied and redistributed, OpenNotes stressed, which can be useful for providers looking to build their and their patients’ skills in writing and using open clinical notes.

“Patients should have easy access to notes written by their providers—and patients want them,” David Sandman, PhD, President and CEO of NYHealth, which helped fund How To Use Open Notes, said in a press release. “True consumer empowerment occurs when patients have access to the information they need to talk to their health care providers, share information, and develop a trusted relationship.”

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