There is a movement afoot called OpenNotes. It is an international movement dedicated to making health care more open and transparent by urging doctors, nurses, therapists and others to share their visit notes with patients. Notes are an important part of a patient’s medical record. When patients are invited to read these notes, they become “open notes.”

In 2015, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, along with the three other foundations – Peterson Center on Healthcare, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Cambia Health Foundation – announced grants totaling more than $10 million to support OpenNotes to extend the movement nationwide with a goal of reaching up to 50 million users. The funding supports OpenNotes over three years to assist providers with adoption, to reach a wide range of consumers and to evaluate the impact of the effort on health outcomes and costs.

How do OpenNotes help people?

Studies show that when patients have access to their medical notes, they feel more in control of their care and more likely to adhere to a treatment plan set forth by their doctor or other health advisor. Research from OpenNotes suggests that offering patients a mechanism to provide feedback about their notes further enhances patient-provider engagement and can improve patient safety.

After a visit or discussion with a health care professional, he or she writes a note that reflects that patient’s visit, summarizing the most important information. The note becomes a part of a person’s medical record and may contain findings from an exam, lab or test results, assessment of a diagnosis, information on medications, a treatment plan or even next steps. Patients who have read their notes report that they:

  • Have a better understanding of their health and medical conditions
  • Can better recall and follow their care plan
  • Feel more in control of their health
  • Take better care of themselves
  • Do a better job taking their medications as prescribed
  • Can identify inaccuracies in the record and play a role in the safety of care
  • Feel comfortable sharing notes with care partners and others involved in their care
  • Can communicate more clearly, helping to strengthen the partnership between themselves and their health care team

Reaching 50 million

In 2016, OpenNotes achieved an important milestone: reaching 10 million users across the U.S. Among the 10 million patients, more than three million were Veterans. One of the first health systems in the country to share medical notes was the Department of Veterans Affairs, who expanded patient health record access in 2013. In addition to the VA, 50 health systems in 35 states were sharing notes online.

The OpenNotes movement also amped up its consumer outreach with a refreshed website and a video based on the experience of iconic Seinfeld character Elaine Benes. Back in 1996, a Seinfeld episode finds Elaine sneaking a peek at her medical records. The doctor catches Elaine viewing her records and tells her she cannot view them. It was true. Until August 1996 people did not have a legal right to view their records. Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) into law, which grants the legal right for any person to view and obtain his or her medical records. Watch the video spoof and learn more about the facts and benefits of having medical records from e-patient Dave. And be sure to ask for your medical notes next time you’re in the doctor’s office. 


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Seinfeld, e-Patient Dave and Your Medical Records: What a Difference 20 Years Makes


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