OpenNotes Project: Where does mental health fit in?

On Monday of this week, Seth asked me if I had a topic for my current blog. As I had none at hand, he pointed me to last week’s episode of the podcast/NPR show, Science Friday. Seth is a regular subscriber to this series and I listen when I find the time. That effort is always rewarded by fascinating discussions of current science issues. For the science professional, wanna-be-scientist or interested layperson, this show is a ready source of truly valuable information.

On Friday, July 30, 2010 the discussion topic was a medical records project called OpenNotes. With the advent of electronic medical records (EMRs) and patient portals into the medical records system, it is only reasonable to begin to consider the nature of the records that physicians keep on their patients. The OpenNotes project is an attempt to allow some 25,000 patients direct access to what 100 participating primary care physicians write in their notes after seeing them.

The project will study the experiences of both the physicians and patients, the impact on work flow of such note taking/sharing, the possible increase in communications between patient and physician, and the reactions of both sets of participants to their experiences. The details of the study are published in an Annals of Internal Medicine article, Open Notes: Doctors and Patients Signing On.

The Science Friday discussion included concerns about sharing sensitive information with the patient and the ability of the patient to understand and process the information included in the note. It has especially been argued that the mental health patient might be too fragile to be exposed to the psychotherapist’s or the psychiatrist’s true evaluation of their status as stated in the progress note.

On the other hand, Concurrent (Collaborative) Documentation has been touted by some community behavioral health specialists as an essential tool for increasing both quality and efficiency of client interactions while simultaneously increasing client buy-in to the treatment plan. The New York State Office of Mental Health writes:

It has been suggested that Concurrent Collaborative Progress Notes were the ‘way to go’. What about uninterrupted direct face to face contact as the best way to achieve high rates of engagement and retention in our clinics?

Concurrent documentation does not require the clinician to take notes during a session or to detach themselves from the recipient. Rather it is advised that at the end of the session, a brief review of the session takes place and the recipient and clinician collaboratively record the progress note. This process supports the delivery of person centered services and often provides the clinician with important feedback about the recipient’s perspective and information obtained from the session.

The process of creating this record concurrent with the meeting and collaboratively with the client is the epitome of an open record. While the OpenNotes project does not go quite this far, it certainly opens the door in this direction. Since the patient owns the record, it seems only fair that they should have easy access to that record and even participate in its creation.

My background as a Feminist Therapist has long given me a strong leaning in this direction. In the view of Feminist Therapy, the treating professional is a consultant having special expertise who is hired by the client to assist them in solving their “problem”. This is certainly also the case in the medical office. The physician has expertise the patient is seeking in their efforts to treat illness and to live healthier lives. This collaborative relationship is more a meeting of equals working together for the patient’s benefit than a dictation of treatment by an authority-figure intent on successful treatment and risk management.

What do you think about opening progress notes to your patients and consumers of service? How would that change the work done by the provider of services? How do you imagine it would change the experience of the consumer?

Please share your comments below.

0 thoughts on “OpenNotes Project: Where does mental health fit in?

  • Nice article Kathy — the issue of concurrent documentation is a hot one, and it is great to see more “research” on it. As a therapist who has used a lot of written summary techniques, it certainly doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to use it as a collaborative note-making tool. It does, however, seem to insult some sacred cows in our field……

    • Thanks for the comment, Spence. I was thinking about you this morning. Hope all is well. Are sacred cows always related to heirarchy? We watched the movie, The Soloist a couple of nights ago. Our communities cannot afford so many sacred cows…and if quality, affordable health care and mental health care require their dismantling, so be it….

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