Sharing Medical Records through Patient Portals

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Sharing medical records with patients has been a long discussed topic, though it has often been met with some resistance. Now, with the rise of electronic medical records and features such as patient portals, which enable secure communication, sharing records has become a goal that the Health IT industry is working hard to achieve.

The OpenNotes movement, which was launched in 2010, began with a 12-month study conducted in three different locations using EMR software, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Geisinger Health System throughout rural Pennsylvania, and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. 105 primary care physicians participated in the study and more than 19,000 patients were given electronic access to their records via their patient portal. The study showed strong results for patients:

  • >80% of patients opened at least one note
  • >66% of patients reported better understanding of their health and medical conditions, taking better care of themselves, doing better with taking their medications, or feeling more in control of their care
  • >85% of patients said availability of notes would influence future choice of providers

One of the main concerns doctors have about allowing patients to access their records is that it could affect clinical workflow. However, the results of the OpenNotes study showed that only 3% of doctors spent time outside of patient visits answering questions and 11% spent extra time writing or editing their notes.

After the study ended, 99% of the patients wanted continued access to their records and all of the doctors involved continued doing so. Since the completion of the study, OpenNotes has grown significantly with close to 5 million patients who have access to their records.

There are several benefits afforded by sharing electronic medical records with patients, such as:

  • Stronger patient-provider relationships and better communication
  • Patients are more engaged in their own care
  • Easier to keep track of appointments, medications, lab results, etc.
  • Patients have a clearer understanding of their health and treatment
  • Improved overall patient outcomes
  • Appeals to the elderly as well as younger patients

The success of the study, which can be found at The BMJ, has encouraged many other clinicians to follow suit. The website,, has further information on the initiative, including a list of several institutions who use OpenNotes to share notes with patients. Some EMR software vendors are starting to build in the potential for patients to access records. It may soon be a requirement for meaningful use, which could be a factor for providers to consider in the future when they select the best EMR for their practice.

Author: Apoorva Anupindi