MyHealtheVet

I found out this past weekend that the VA will be making clinician progress notes available for patients to view on the MyHealtheVet portal. In other words, the VA is going OpenNotes. (Note: I was a primary care provider in geriatrics clinic at the San Francisco VA from 2006-2010.)

My first reaction was to be impressed by this bold progressive move.

My next reaction was to feel mildly relieved that I’m no longer a PCP there.

Now, it’s not because I’m against transparency in healthcare, or am suspicious of patient engagement, or feel that patients shouldn’t see their health information without the assistance/gatekeeping/interference of a clinician. Far from it.

It’s because in my own VA practice caring for WWII vets, I used to frequently document certain concerns that would’ve been a bit, shall we say, awkward for the patient to see. Reading about these concerns would’ve quite possibly infuriated the patient, or the caregivers, or both.

So whew, I find myself relieved that I don’t have to figure out how to document (or not document?) these concerns.

Instead, I’ll get to see how my friends at the VA handle these issues.

Wondering what they are? Ok, I will tell you but shh … don’t tell my elderly patients that I may be considering these topics as I care for them.

Six awkward concerns in geriatric primary care practice

· Possible dementia. As a geriatrician, I focus on an age group that has a high incidence of dementia. Which means that when someone starts to tell me odd stories (concerns related to poison are a popular theme, as well as reports that someone is stealing things repeatedly), I start wondering about possible dementia. Ditto if he or she starts floundering with the medications, or starts having other difficulties with IADLs.

Why it’s awkward: Patients and families really hate it when I bring up the possibility that there might be dementia. Many find the possibility of a disease such as Alzheimer’s truly terrifying, both because it’s perceived as a terrible disease, and because they worry about having to leave their homes or otherwise losing their independence. Note that if I’m considering the possibility of dementia, I usually let the patient know during the visit.

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