Purpose: Electronic medical records increasingly allow patients access to clinician notes. Although most believe that open notes benefits patients, some suggest negative consequences. Little is known about the experiences of patients with cancer reading their medical notes; thus we aimed to describe this qualitatively.
Methods: We interviewed 20 adults with metastatic or incurable cancer receiving cancer treatment. The semistructured qualitative interviews included four segments: assessing their overall experience reading notes, discussing how notes affected their cancer care experiences, reading a real note with the interviewer, and making suggestions for improvement. We used a constant comparison approach to analyze these qualitative data.
Results: We found four themes. Patients reported that notes resulted in the following: (1) increased comprehension; (2) ameliorated uncertainty, relieved anxiety, and facilitated control; (3) increased trust; and (4) for a subset of patients, increased anxiety. Patients described increased comprehension because notes refreshed their memory and clarified their understanding of visits. This helped mitigate the unfamiliarity of cancer, addressing uncertainty and relieving anxiety. Notes facilitated control, empowering patients to ask clinicians more questions. The transparency of notes also increased trust in clinicians. For a subset of patients, however, notes were emotionally difficult to read and raised concerns. Patients identified medical jargon and repetition in notes as areas for improvement.
Conclusion: Most patients thought that reading notes improved their care experiences. A small subset of patients experienced increased distress. As reading notes becomes a routine part of the patient experience, physicians might want to elicit and address concerns that arise from notes, thereby further engaging patients in their care.