Viewpoint: How physicians can help patients understand EHR notes

Patients having access to their caregivers' EHR notes is not helpful unless they can understand the notes' meaning and context, Eliana Miller Perrin, MD, wrote in a Nov. 23 opinion piece for Bloomberg.

Dr. Perrin, a pediatrician and professor at the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and School of Nursing, said that while patients having access to their EHR records may seem like a significant win for transparency, "it actually represents a sea change in the way doctors and patients communicate."

Most providers write their notes so that other medical professionals can understand them, according to Dr. Perrin. She said that since EHR charts are designed to communicate complicated information among medical professionals and billers, most patients cannot accurately interpret these notes.

Dr. Perrin also said it's common for lab results to be shared before a provider has a chance to review them in the context of a patient's medical history. She said that when patients see these results in their EHR without being able to talk it over with their physician, they can get unnecessarily frightened. 

To remedy these problems, Dr. Perrin recommended medical language be revised so patients can better understand it. She also suggested translation services and more infographics.

Dr. Perrin also said that health systems should block the release of lab or test results from certain units, such as pathology, until physicians can go over the results with their patients.


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