Category Archives: Gimme My Data

HIPAA is 20 – 10 million can get doctor’s notes online

Happy 20th Birthday, HIPAA. You are still misunderstood…

Do you know what HIPAA stands for? It’s the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Go to a doctor’s office, and it may cited as a wall keeping you from your record. Yet that’s not correct, and HIPAA just doesn’t get any respect.
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The P means Portability. Meaning, being able to port or connect or carry health information from one place to another. That one place so important to people is THEM. Getting access to THEIR notes – including clinic and hospital notes written by doctors and nurses.

It’s great to see that through the OpenNotes project, 10 million can access to their clinical notes online. That would be through secure patient portals. It’s mostly larger systems, like the VA and Mayo and Beth Israel Deaconess. There’s a lot of room to move, though, since people largely go to smaller places or go to multiple places to get their care. So there’s a lot to do. If we look at the map of where we are today, there’s lots of pockets lacking note sharing. Sadly to say, Maine, my own state is one of them.

I’m having formal and informal discussions, and really have just started the conversations. As more evidence is coming in, people will take more notice of it. And since Maine is a great place to collaborate on quality (Quality Counts) and consumer engagement (GetBetterMaine) and electronic information sharing (HealthInfonet), I couldn’t be more pumped to get this party started!

The mission is simple: add notes to patient portals, no cost for sharing, have people read them, partner with clinicians!

I’ll be sharing evidence on experience and impact of sharing notes. There’s been recent papers on the effect of notification to go look at notes, recall to refill medications, and some fascinating work coming out of Portland, Oregon, on the impact in mental health – from patients and clinical team members. Stay tuned!

Going Mainstream: Online Sharing of Test Results With Patients

This post is the full essay published in the journal Cancer Cytopathology. The journal editor invited me to submit a piece for their “Clinician’s Corner” section, focused on patient online access to their rest results. Who could refuse?! Thanks to @CancerCytopath for making this open access & available to the public. The paper and journal can be accessed here and here.

Outside the walls of medicine, seismic shifts are affecting how health professionals do their jobs and how the public experiences care. People are harnessing information previously outside their reach and are connecting with one another online in ways not imagined a few years ago. With ready access to the Internet and the use of always-on devices, expectations have never been higher for the availability of health-related information and online services.

Inside health care, events are converging to make personal health data more transparent and accessible to patients. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act secures the right for consumers to access their health data despite many who remain unfamiliar with the law and the cumbersome—and potentially costly—process for patients to obtain records. Meaningful-use incentives promote electronic health record (EHR) investment, which creates building blocks on which data can be collected and shared digitally. The advent of secure online patient portals offers a way to share data with patients. With the growth of portals, patients can access their health information and communicate with their health care teams from the comfort of their homes and the convenience of their lives.

Health systems that promote transparency by offering patients remote data access have a desire to improve quality and safety and hope to gain efficiency. The use of online secure patient portals has been associated with higher levels of patient satisfaction and access to care. With emerging research demonstrating that individuals actively involved in their health and their health care achieve better health,[1] patient portals are poised to improve outcomes. Customarily positioned as information gatekeepers who operate through in-person encounters, clinicians are ever more expected to work in an environment of shared EHR data and virtual communication.

Almost 10 years ago, Kaiser Permanente introduced online access to laboratory test results, and currently, more than 7 of 10 members have registered for the kp.org website. Viewing laboratory results is the most frequent user activity, and this is followed by secure e-mail, medication refilling, and appointment scheduling. In a survey examining the emotional reactions of portal users who accessed laboratory test results online, responders felt high levels of appreciation, calm, and relief; few experienced worry, confusion, or fear.[2] The study was notable in that patients who had discussions with their provider about result expectations reported more relief and satisfaction and less confusion than patients who did not speak with their physicians before viewing their results.

OpenNotes is a growing initiative to provide patients online access to encounter notes. A prospective intervention at 3 large health systems found study patients engaged more in their care and reported benefits from note access. Initial concerns from participating providers were largely unfounded, and none elected to stop note access after the research had ended.[3] Although pathology reports have not typically been accessible through patient portals, this has not been the case at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Long a leader in digital records, VA began opening patient access to EHR data in 2000. National implementation expanded in 2010 with laboratory results accessed through the Blue Button function. Full access to clinical notes and test results expanded significantly in January 2013. VA patients with online access can view data after a 3-day hold, and pathology reports can be accessed 14 days after completion. The experience of VA patients in accessing their EHR data mirrors the findings of OpenNotes research.[4]

Clinicians voice concerns about patients viewing data without their interpretation and are worried about increasing patient anxiety and workload. Apprehension intensified with the 2014 Department of Health and Human Services ruling allowing patients direct access to laboratory reports. However, missed test results are sure to continue despite provider alerts and established patient-feedback pathways. Shared data empowers patients and promotes self-care.[5] After all, there is no greater stakeholder than the person on whom the test was performed. Research suggests that patients who access their data can improve care quality. One VA patient, after reading an ultrasound report online, remarked, “It said re-do in 6 months, but that time came and went. I called the doctor[,] who says[,] ‘Yeah, it did say that.’ So if I didn’t call, it wouldn’t have got done.” Although open data are not a substitute for a requirement to communicate test results, patients are another set of eyes helping to ensure accountability.

With no evidence of a digital revolution slowdown, health care must leverage technology while simultaneously overcoming its resistance to changing the status quo. Clinicians need to embrace the reality of open data, even in the absence of providers’ explanations. Pathologists should always be mindful that their documentation is read and downloaded by patients. Language must be clear and nonjudgmental, and standard nomenclature should be used when appropriate. These principles should also apply to clinical notes and communication between clinicians in the EHR. Diagnostic uncertainty will exist and continue to engender worry. Patients do not expect simplicity or nonmedical language, but they do want and expect transparency.

In his book The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands,[6] Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, offers a powerful vision in which health data are democratized and widely available, patients and clinicians work together as partners, and technology is harnessed to meet people’s needs in a cost-effective fashion. With shared health data, the genie is now out of the bottle.

References
1. Hibbard JH, Greene J. What the evidence shows about patient activation: better health outcomes and care experiences; fewer data on costs. Health Aff (Millwood). 2013;32:207-214.

2. Christensen K, Sue VM. Viewing laboratory test results online: patients’ actions and reactions. J Particip Med. 2013;5:e38.

3. Delbanco T, Walker J, Bell SK, et al. Inviting patients to read their doctors’ notes: a quasi-experimental study and a look ahead. Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:461-470.

4. Woods SS, Schwartz E, Tuepker A, et al. Patient experiences with full electronic access to health records and clinical notes through the My HealtheVet Personal Health Record Pilot: qualitative study. J Med Internet Res. 2013;15:e65.

5. deBronkart D. How the e-patient community helped save my life: an essay by Dave deBronkart. BMJ. 2013;346:f1990.

6. Topol E. The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands. Philadelphia, PA: Basic Books; 2015.

Open Notes research: VA patients find their clinical notes helpful and don’t bother doctors much.

A new research study on OpenNotes, one I’ve had the joy to be part of, has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA). VA OpenNotes: exploring the experiences of early patient adopters with access to clinical notes, by colleagues Kim Nazi, Carolyn Turvey, Dawn Klein and Tim Hogan, describes views of users of the VA’s personal health record MyHealtheVet. feat_bluebutton

MyHealtheVet has offered patient access to their electronic health record through Blue Button since 2010. In January 2013, that access exploded to include clinical notes. All the notes. Primary care, specialty medicine, mental health. Patients could also see reports of tests – from Xrays to CT scans to lab results. These can be seen 3 days after completion (except Pathology has a 14 day hold).

How are patients using access to clinical notes? What do they find? Do they contact their doctor? This study presents findings from the first 9 months patients could access clinical notes. Users find reading doctors’ and nurses’ of benefit, help explain things and reinforce discussions from visits. Most use the information on their own, with few contacting their doctor.

3 out of 4 patients did not contact their provider after reading notes, because they had no reason to. Patients planning to contact their provider wanted to learn more about a health issue, medication, or test result, or get an explanation about something in the note.

Read the full paper, PDF here, for detailed results from more than 28,000 who responded to the survey on the MyHealtheVet website June – September 2013. Here’s a few of the most interesting findings:

Among 6,810 who said they accessed VA Notes, approximately:
– 72% are age 60 or older
– 73% read the notes, 26% downloaded a copy and 11% shared notes with others
– Just under 6% discussed the notes with a VA provider or care team member
– 75% had no plans to talk to the provider
– 82% who didn’t plan to talk to provider said they had no reason to do so
– Of those who planned or did talk to provider, 87% do so to learn more

The study results offer more glimpses into this new world of OpenNotes. While some patients clearly feel that talking to their doctor about the notes ‘bothers them’, a few feel that provider discussion is needed to ‘correct’ the notes. I believe full transparency is absoutely the right thing to do, yet does require new kinds of thinking and acting. Notes have to be written with the patient and family in mind. Yet we need to go beyond the idea of acceptance, toward fully embracing such a shared contribution. OpenNotes are a great Shared Health Data journey – one I’m sure we’ll look back on and chuckle, wondering what all the fuss was about. Let’s get there now.