10/03/2012 05:30 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2012

Peeking at Doctors' Notes Helps Patients

By Katherine Harmon
(Click here for the original article and podcast)

Ever wonder just what your doctor is furiously scribbling down in her notes as she examines you? Patients often still lack access to the notes their doctors take about their care.

Now what's called the OpenNotes program has tested the not-so-radical idea of giving thousands of patients optional access to their doctors' notes. At the outset, doctors were concerned that they would have to spend a lot more time answering questions from patients. They also feared that the notes would confuse or worry patients.

None of these scenarios came true, according to a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. [Tom Delbanco et al., Inviting Patients to Read Their Doctors' Notes: A quasi-experimental study and a look ahead]

Most docs said that they didn't change a thing and OpenNotes actually improved their interaction with patients. Patients loved the access, too. More than 5,000 patients viewed at least one doctor's note and completed the study survey during the yearlong trial. And 99 percent wanted to continue to have access to the info. Most also reported that it helped them stick to doctor's orders by checking in on their checkups.