Quality health care requires full and accurate communication between patients and medical professionals. Patients need to be honest with their doctors when telling them about their symptoms and other concerns. Doctors need to be sure that patients and/or their families understand their conditions and their instructions for care, treatment and medication.
That communication too often breaks down simply because many doctors are seeing so many patients that they simply don’t have the necessary time to spend with each one. That allows patients to go home and forget or misinterpret was what said to them. Doctors can also easily forget or misunderstand crucial information a patient provided them.
If you’re already a patient of in a large health care system, you likely have online access to your medical records, including your doctor’s notes made during your visit, instructions for follow-up testing and test results when they come in. If you don’t, you may actually have to pay to get your records. It can take some time to get them if they aren’t provided electronically.
That will change starting next month when all U.S. health care providers must be in compliance with the 21st Century Cures Act. The new law improves on the accessibility provided by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Now, patient information, including notes, lab results, diagnoses and prescribed medications, will have to be accessible electronically, including via smartphone and free of charge.
There is no doubt that when patients have greater and easier access to their own medical records, the chances of misunderstandings are minimized. One nursing professor says that about a fifth of patients find errors when they’re able to access their doctor’s notes.
There are some privacy and safety issues to be resolved, and there may be some cases in which doctors can withhold records if a patient is or may become the victim of violence. Individual state privacy laws regarding minors will take precedence over the new law.
More access to information certainly won’t eliminate the risks of medical error by your doctor or by those who care for you in a hospital. If you believe that you or a loved one have been the victim of medical malpractice, this information can, however, provide needed evidence for you and your attorney if you’re considering pursuing a claim.