Nine Northwest Medical Groups to Make EHR Access Easier

An OpenNotes initiative backed by the We Can Do Better campaign makes access to electronic health records easier for patients in the Northwest.

A regional collaboration among nine health systems and medical groups in the Northwest will provide more than a million patients in Oregon and Southwest Washington with electronic access to the notes their providers include in medical records.

For its part, Kaiser Permanente Northwest begins making clinician notes available to its members across the region starting this week.

In addition to Kaiser Permanente Northwest, the organizations include Legacy Health, Oregon Health & Science University, Providence Medical Group Oregon, The Portland Clinic, The Vancouver Clinic, Portland VA Medical Center, OCHIN and Salem Health.

A joint release noted each of these groups is already practicing open notes in some form, or intends to do so sometime in 2014 or 2015.

"Now, nearly 500,000 Kaiser Permanente members will, for the first time ever, be able to easily view the notes charted by their doctor during an office visit," Michael McNamara, chief medical information officer for Kaiser Permanente, said in a statement. "We want patients to feel connected with their providers, and to have the type of tools that will enable them to be more engaged and in control of their care."

The announcement marks the first time that OpenNotes, a national movement that urges health-related organizations to adopt open access to clinician notes as a standard of care, has been embraced simultaneously throughout an entire region.

OpenNotes was first piloted as part of a large-scale research study conducted at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, which are all now adopting this practice.

Based at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Tom Delbanco and Jan Walker created and continue to lead the OpenNotes initiative.

In addition, the Veterans Affairs, including the Portland VA Medical Center, since January 2013 has adopted full transparency of clinical note access.

The use of open notes by groups in the Northwest extends beyond the region. For example, OCHIN, an Oregon-based nonprofit health information network that operates in 18 states and serves more than 2.5 million patients, has enabled its 78 safety net clinics (nearly half in Oregon) to use OpenNotes since December 2013.

The OpenNotes initiative is funded primarily by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It started with a one-year study that examined the impact of offering clinician notes to more than 13,000 patients cared for by 105 primary care doctors at the three aforementioned sites.

We Can Do Better is being supported to do this work by a grant from the Cambia Health Foundation, which focuses its efforts on supporting ideas and innovations that engage consumers and providers to enhance quality, advance access and promote best practices to help people achieve healthy lives.

"With the advent of the electronic health record, it has become much easier to securely share notes among providers and, as a logical extension, with patients," Homer Chin, chairperson for the We Can Do Better campaign, said in a statement. "In light of the many benefits of doing so, it's time that we engage and empower patients by providing them with easy access to their own medical information."