Rush University Medical Center is giving patients more access to their online health records.

Rush, a major 664-bed academic hospital in Chicago, is now enabling patients to see all doctors notes through a secure web link that is a part of MyChart, a digital healthcare portal. Rush, which operates an electronic medical records system from Epic Systems Corp., has been piloting the new electronic medical records feature since February and rolled it out system-wide in October.

The web feature Rush calls OpenNotes provides patients online anywhere, anytime access to doctors’ notes. Patients already were able to see physician instructions, next steps, prescriptions and test orders online though MyChart, says Rush associate chief medical information officer Dr. Allison Weathers.

But now through OpenNotes they also can see what their physicians have written in their medical record online. Navigating health system demands and managing treatments can be difficult, particularly for individuals with complex health needs who are often under the care of multiple providers, Weathers says.

Research shows that when patients can access their physicians’ notes, they better understand their medical issues and treatment plan as active partners in their care, she says. Providing patients with secure web access to physician note has multiple benefits, Weathers says.

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When a patient is sick, tired or stressed during a doctors visit, they may forget what the doctor said or prescribed, Weathers says. We wanted to address this issue by giving all of our patients secure, online access to their doctors notes after a visit.

Online patient portals have become an important patient engagement strategy that allows patients to see their health information and can enable them to participate more actively in care, Weathers says.

Patients currently can use MyChart to perform health management activities such as filling prescriptions or scheduling appointments, viewing laboratory test results and communicating with Rush healthcare providers using MyCharts secure messaging function.

A national study in 2010 funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nations largest philanthropy organization devoted exclusively to health and health care, tested the OpenNotes concept with 105 primary care physicians and more than 13,000 patients during a year-long voluntary program and found that patients had better recall after visits, felt more in control of their care, had better communication and collaboration with their doctor and took medications more effectively

“Patients expect and deserve to have full access to their medical records,” Weathers says.

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