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HHS extends deadline for patient access to your clinical notes


The Department of Health & Human Services on Oct. 29 extended the deadline for health care groups to provide patients with immediate electronic access to their doctors’ clinical notes as well as test results and reports from pathology and imaging.

The mandate, called “open notes” by many, is part of the 21st Century Cures Act, and will now go into effect April 5.

The announcement comes just 4 days before the previously established Nov. 2 deadline and gives the pandemic as the reason for the delay.

“We are hearing that, while there is strong support for advancing patient access … stakeholders also must manage the needs being experienced during the current pandemic,” Don Rucker, MD, national coordinator for health information technology at HHS, said in a press statement.

“To be clear, the Office of the National Coordinator is not removing the requirements advancing patient access to their health information,” he added.

‘What you make of it’

Scott MacDonald, MD, electronic health record medical director at the University of California, Davis, said his organization is proceeding anyway. “UC Davis is going to start releasing notes and test results on Nov. 12,” he said in an interview.

Other organizations and practices now have more time, he said, but the law stays the same. “There’s no change to the what or why – only to the when,” Dr. MacDonald pointed out.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., will take advantage of the extra time, Trent Rosenbloom, MD, MPH, director of patient portals, said in an interview.

“Given the super-short time frame we had to work under as this emerged out from dealing with COVID, we feel that we have not addressed all the potential legal-edge cases such as dealing with adolescent medicine and child abuse,” he said.

On Oct. 21, this news organization reported on the then-imminent start of the new law, which irked many readers. They cited, among other things, the likelihood of patient confusion with fast patient access to all clinical notes.

“To me, the biggest issue is that we speak a foreign language that most outside of medicine don’t speak. Our job is to explain it to the patient at a level they can understand. What will 100% happen now is that a patient will not be able to reconcile what is in the note to what they’ve been told,” Andrew White, MD, wrote in a reader comment.

But benefits of open notes outweigh the risks, say proponents, who claim that doctor-patient communication and trust actually improve with information access and that research indicates other benefits such as improved medication adherence.

Open notes are “what you make of it,” said Marlene Millen, MD, an internist at UC San Diego Health, which has had a pilot open-notes program for 3 years.

“I actually end all of my appointments with: ‘Don’t forget to read your note later,’ ” she said in an interview.

Dr. Millen feared open notes initially but, within the first 3 months of usage, about 15 patients gave her direct feedback on how much they appreciated her notes. “It seemed to really reassure them that they were getting good care.”

Dr. MacDonald and Dr. Millen disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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