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Dr. Oz and Roizen: Be an informed patient and get healthier

If you’ve ever wondered what your doc is scribbling in your file or entering into a computer during your medical appointment, you’re not alone. More than 90 percent of us want to see our doctors’ notes.

In fact, millions of American health care consumers now do. Seems there’s been a little revolution brewing. The big news? The revolution is making consumers healthier.

The success of a groundbreaking new open medical-records program has both of us cheering. The program gave over 13,500 patients in three big health systems – Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and Harbor View Medical in Seattle – access to their doctors’ notes for one year. The patients couldn’t wait to read their charts; up to 92 percent checked ’em at least once. The results were amazing:

• Up to 85 percent said they had a better understanding of their health and medical conditions.

• Up to 87 percent felt more in control of their health care.

• Up to 72 percent took better care of themselves.

• Up to 78 percent did better with taking medications.

• Up to 42 percent shared the notes with a close friend or family member – a great way to get support and encouragement for staying healthy.

• 99 percent wanted to keep seeing their charts after the study ended.

The docs were enthusiastic, too. Many said their patient relationships were better, with more trust, better communication and stronger partnerships for good health. All of the docs opted to make their notes available to their patients after the study ended.

Now this breakthrough is rolling out across North America. The Cleveland Clinic – where Dr. Mike is in charge of wellness – Milwaukee’s Columbia St. Mary’s Health System, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Penn State Hershey Medical Group, Kaiser Permanente Northwest and other health systems are making doc notes and medical records available to any and all of their patients through electronic media. (The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has been sharing its records with patients since 2009.) In August, the Canadian Medical Journal called for open doc notes, too, urging an end to the “hoops and speed bumps” that leave patients waiting nearly three months (and footing the bill for paper copies) for info that’s rightfully theirs.

How to get the Info that’s already yours

In the U.S., health care consumers have had the legal right to see their doctors’ notes, along with lab test results and other info in their medical files, since 1996, and even earlier in some states. It’s been easy for docs and insurance companies to peek at this oh-so-personal info, but patients were stymied by lots of red tape and copying fees. Some even had to sue to see their files. The story’s frustratingly similar in Canada, where a Thunder Bay woman’s discovery that it would cost her $617 to see copies of her records made nationwide headlines last summer.

If you don’t already have access, ask your doc if you can see your notes, and the rest of your medical records. Then do this:

1. Look for and correct errors: An accurate record could save your life in the emergency room, not to mention avoid confusion in your regular care in the future.

2. Keep track of your meds and test results: Having an up-to-date list of the drugs you take is on our list of the smart habits of highly effective health care consumers; so is knowing your health metrics, like blood pressure, blood sugar, LDL cholesterol and results of other tests, too.

3. Doc not ready to go public with his notes? Show him this column. And point him to myopennotes.org, the website of the Open Notes study, for important info about sharing medical records with patients. Be patient. Docs may need to change the way they make notes so you don’t misunderstand their shorthand (“S.O.B.” means “short of breath,” not that he doesn’t like you!). Together you can feed the revolution.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen, a Buffalo native, is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit sharecare.com.