By now, you know the drill. You're sitting in your doctor's office answering questions and perhaps reeling off complaints while he or she takes notes. The more curious among us might try to read upside down, but doctors' handwriting being what it is (no cliché here), we rarely make out more than a few words. Legally, you are entitled to see these notes but getting a copy is usually a cumbersome process and can take many weeks. And, really, how much do you want to know what your doctor says about you? Would that knowledge make you healthier?
That's what a new pilot study is designed to find out. This summer, 100 primary care physicians around the country will take part in what is being called the "OpenNotes" Initiative. Twenty-five thousand patients will be able to read their doctors' notes online through a secure portal. Three hospital centers are participating: Beth Israel Deaconness in Boston, the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. The goal is to see whether having this access improves doctor-patient communication. Even though most doctors do try to explain things to patients, often we are confused and embarrassed to ask about things we don't understand.
There is a potential downside. Some doctors worry that having access to the notes could make patients even more scared or confused. Details of the initiative are reported in the current issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. You can add your own comments at www.annals.org.
Would you like to see what your doctor has in your files? Or are you happier not knowing?