Open access to EHR notes improves cancer patients' understanding of their diagnoses, study finds

The majority of cancer patients said open access to their physician notes improved their understanding of their diagnoses and treatments, according to a study published in Practical Radiation Oncology.

Researchers from UC Los Angeles sought to assess how oncology patients responded when they were given open access to their physician notes. For the study, they provided 220 patients receiving radiation therapy with information on how to access oncology notes from their patient portal. The researchers subsequently distributed surveys to gauge patients' attitudes toward the feature before and after their radiation treatment course.

Before accessing their physician notes, the majority of the radiation oncology patients expected that open access to the notes would improve their understanding of their diagnosis (99 percent), understanding of their treatment side effects (98 percent), reassurance about their treatment goals (96 percent) and communication with their family (99 percent).

All patients who accessed their physician notes during the treatment course agreed the feature proved useful. The majority of patients found open access to their physician notes improved their understanding of their diagnosis (96 percent), understanding of their treatment side effects (94 percent) and reassurance about their treatment goals (96 percent).

However, some patients also reported increased worry (11 percent), confusion (6 percent) and finding information they now regret reading (4 percent) after accessing their physician notes.

"Radiation oncology patients have a strong interest in open access to their physician notes and the majority of patients expect to and actually report meaningful benefits," the study authors concluded. "These data support strategies to allow more cancer patients access to their notes."

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