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LANCASTER, PA, January 2015 -- Lancaster General Health Physicians are giving patients a clearer picture of their health by joining OpenNotes, a national initiative to provide easy online access to visit notes written by physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers.
 
Patients typically leave an office visit with a summary, which lists vital signs, medications and follow-up appointments. The clinician’s visit notes provide more details, including patient history, exam and lab findings, and treatment plan. Together, the summary and notes offer a more complete picture of an office visit.
 
OpenNotes are available for outpatient visits to LG Health Physicians practices and some local independent healthcare providers that occurred on or after Dec. 10, 2014, when LG Health adopted the new feature. Patients enrolled in the secure online portal MyLGHealth (MyLGHealth.org) may view their visit notes in addition to personal health information, such as lab results. Patients should ask their providers if they participate in OpenNotes.
 
Dr. Paul Casale, Chief of Cardiology and Medical Director of Quality at Lancaster General Health, said access to notes reinforces the information and education shared during an office visit, ultimately improving quality of care.
 
“OpenNotes is a significant step in our efforts to increase transparency and engagement with our patients,” Casale said.  “Research has shown that engaged patients have better health outcomes.”

Physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants write or dictate their visit notes, which are then posted on MyLGHealth, a feature currently used by more than 94,000 patients. If providers have concerns about sharing notes with certain patients, they can elect not to share individual notes.
 
Visit notes are confidential, but patients may choose to share them with family members, caregivers or others. OpenNotes is not available for patients under age 18 or patients seen for behavioral-health services. LG Health is one of 20 U.S. health systems that now offer OpenNotes.
 
“OpenNotes is like having an extra set of ears at a medical appointment,” said Casale, who adds that patients are often reluctant to engage their health care provider during the office visit, impairing their ability to fully understand their medical condition.  “Having access to the notes allows for review and understanding of the visit.”
 
The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) allows patients to review and copy visit notes, but most patients don’t ask and providers don’t routinely provide them.

In 2010, more than 100 primary-care doctors at three U.S. health systems joined a yearlong OpenNotes pilot to gauge the potential impact on healthcare. At the end of the pilot, 99 percent of patients wanted to continue seeing their visit notes, and no doctor asked to stop sharing them.
 
In findings published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, patients reported feeling better-prepared for appointments and taking better care of themselves, which includes remembering their care plan, understanding their health and medical conditions, and increasing compliance with taking medications.

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