Ownership of Medical Records

Who should own medical records? Some commentary on the subject has appeared recently in the press, and it has elicited some strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

As things stand now, physicians and hospitals have ownership of medical records. But that fact doesn’t appear to be well known among patients or the medical community. According to a recent survey, more than half of patients believe they own their records, while only about 40 percent of physicians and hospitals believe they own the records.

On one side, you have people who argue that the medical record should really belong to the patient. It is the patient who is paying for the visit, procedure, lab test, x-ray or hospital stay, they argue. The record documents the condition of the patient’s body.

For many years, physicians resisted allowing patients to see their records because the doctors were concerned that patients, knowing little about medical terminology, would become agitated by what they read.

But studies have shown that when patients are given access to their records, they experience greater satisfaction with their care.

Some physicians argue for patient ownership because often, they say, primary doctors may not know the results of specialist visits, and so the patient needs to coordinate information. Both physicians and patients should have joint ownership, another physician said, because this provides the transparency needed for the best care.

But other physicians still were not convinced that patients should have unregulated access to records.

Some argue that patients were unlikely to be as careful with the records as healthcare facilities are. The records might be lost, or breaches of privacy would be more likely to occur. And if that happened, these physicians argued, it is possible that the physician might bear some legal responsibility.

Also, other physicians said, if patients owned their records, what is to prevent them from making changes to the record if they don’t like what they see? For example, an alcoholic doesn’t like seeing references to his condition in the chart, and so deletes it.

Still other physicians said that they often include notes to themselves on the charts, things that they observe, things to follow up on. If patients owned their charts, physicians might be less likely to include these types of things because of legal implications.

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