How would you judge the value of your health care? A longstanding definition of treatment holds that value is the health outcomes achieved for the dollars spent. Yet behind that seemingly simple formula lies much complexity.
Think about it: Calculating outcomes and costs for treating a short-term acute condition, such as a child’s strep throat, may be easy. But it’s far harder to pinpoint value in a long-term serious illness such as advanced cancer, in which both both the outcomes and costs of treating a given individual—let alone a population with a particular cancer—may be unknown for years. And then there’s the complicating issue of our individual preferences, since one person’s definition of a good outcome—say, another few years of life—may differ from another’s, who may be seeking a total cure.Continue reading…
We have some questions for you—questions, that is, about health information. What is it? Can you get it when you need it? What if your community needed important information to make your town or city safe or keep it healthy? How about information about your health care? Can your doctors and nurses get health care information about you or your family members when they need it quickly?
I came across a recent Wall Street Journal article about a remarkable story of health, resilience and survival in the face of an unimaginable health crisis—a Liberian community facing the advancing Ebola infections in their country got health information and used it to protect themselves. When the community first learned of the rapidly advancing Ebola cases coming toward them, the leaders in that Firestone company town in Liberia jumped on the Internet and performed a Google search for “Ebola”.
As the instigators of the OpenNotes initiative, we are thrilled that OpenNotes is being adopted by the VA. Prompted by Dr. Kernisan’s thoughtful post , the ensuing lively discussion, and our experiment with 100 primary care physicians and 20,000 of their patients ), we thought it useful to offer some observations drawing both on our experiences as clinicians and on ongoing conversations with clinicians and patients.
First and foremost, we don’t have “answers” for Dr. Kernisan. Our hope is to contribute to new approaches to these sticky questions over time. And, remember that patients’ right to review their records is by no means new. Since 1996, virtually all patients have had the right to access their full medical records. What’s new is that OpenNotes takes down barriers such as filling out forms and charging per page, while actively inviting far more patients to exercise this right in an easier and accessible way.
We think of open visit notes as a new medicine, designed like all therapies to help more than it hurts. But every medicine is inevitably accompanied by relative and absolute contraindications, and it’s useful to remember that it’s up to the medical and patient community to learn to take a medicine wisely as it becomes more widely available. A few specific thoughts:
Dementia and diminished physical capacity:
When a clinician notices symptoms or signs of dementia, chances are the patient and/or family has already been worrying about this for some time. Is it safe for the patient to live alone? What about driving? How and when could things get worse? They may actually be relieved when the doctor brings up these topics and articulates the issues in a note. Moreover, their worst fears may prove unfounded, and reading that in a note can be reassuring. But we need to consider the words we write so we don’t rush to label a condition as “Alzheimer’s.” Being descriptive is often better and more helpful than assigning one word definitions. In itself, OpenNotes reminds the health professional to choose words wisely. That doesn’t have to mean more work, but we believe it can certainly mean better notes that can be more easily understood by the patient. We urge colleagues to stay away from “The patient denies…,” or “refuses,” or “is SOB.”
Abuse or diversion of drugs, possible substance abuse, or unhealthy alcohol use:
These subjects are always tough, and what to write down has been an issue for clinicians long before they worried about open records. Over the course of our experiment in primary care, we have heard stories from patients about changing their attitudes and behavior after reading a note and “seeing in black and white” what their doctors were most worried about. Though substance abuse may seem like a particularly sensitive topic, at least one doctor in our study is convinced that some of his patients in trouble with drugs or medications did better as a result of reading his notes. And while some patients may reject our spoken (or unspoken) thoughts that we document in notes, experience to date makes us believe that more patients will be helped than hurt, and that it is worth the tradeoff.