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How Patient Data Access, Education Improve Patient Safety

As providers work to reduce adverse patient safety events, they should engage their patients using patient portals and better education techniques.

- Adverse patient safety events continue to plague the healthcare industry, with government agencies reporting as many as one in ten patients experiencing harm during treatment.

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And as patient safety becomes tied to the overall patient experience, it will be important for providers to use tools to help reduce adverse events. Patient engagement will be key to this effort as providers and patients work together to prevent patient safety issues.

As patient-facing tools, such as patient portals and digitized physician notes, come to the forefront of healthcare IT, providers can combine these technologies with patient education to add another layer to patient safety.

Take advantage of physician notes, portal access

Providing more than just a check-box policy requirement, patient portals remain at the technological core of patient engagement. And because these tools allow patients to view after-visit summaries, medication lists, and vaccination records, some industry leaders consider them as integral to involving the patient in safety efforts.

READ MORE: How Patient Engagement, Education Can Improve Medication Safety

A recent ONC report focused on how EHRs impact medication errors concludes that patient engagement can be an added layer to boost medication safety. While providers should employ better EHR use strategies, they can also leverage medication lists and after-visit summaries to engage the patient to hold their providers accountable, according to the report.

All providers using certified EHR technology (CEHRT) are capable of producing an after-visit summary for their patients, making this a convenient and tenable strategy in reducing adverse drug events. When patients can look at what was discussed during their most recent appointment, they can ask questions about a change in medication or dosage.

Access to an after-visit summary is also helpful when the patient is at the pharmacy. Providers should encourage patients to review the drug protocol listed on the summary when the pharmacist fills the prescription, ensuring there has not been a lapse in communication.

A similar principle stands with access to complete physician notes. A study conducted by OpenNotes at the end of 2016 shows that offering patients the ability to interact with physician notes can improve patient safety.

The researchers introduced a patient feedback tool to 41 physicians who had already adopted OpenNotes, an initiative to allow patients access to their doctors’ notes.

READ MORE: Patient-Provider Communication Strategy May Boost Education

Overall, 44 percent of participating patients accessed their notes, and one in 12 used the feedback tool to correct a provider note. Of those patients, 23 percent reported safety concerns, typically associated with medication errors or incorrect documentation of pre-existing conditions.

Eventually, 57 percent of patient-reported concerns resulted in actual revisions in the medical record, which indicates that patient feedback was instrumental in ensuring providers had access to accurate patient data.

“Our findings add to a growing literature suggesting that patients can help identify mistakes,” said lead author Sigall Bell, MD. “We were struck that nearly all patients and care partners in the study found the feedback tool valuable. What that indicates to us is that patients are eager to help their health care teams ‘get it right.’”

Patient education empowers patients to improve safety

While providing patients with efficient access to their health information is key to driving patient safety, it must be supplemented with adequate patient education. If patients do not know what they’re looking at when inspecting an after-visit summary or portal note, the effort will go to waste.

READ MORE: Why Patient Education is Vital for Engagement, Better Outcomes

“Patients may not always understand the importance of reviewing the after-visit summary, or may not be fully engaged or empowered to ask follow-up questions if the information―including active medications and their relationship with diagnoses―is unclear or differs from their understanding,” according to ONC.

In an effort to support patient education, AHRQ recently issued a strategy called patient teach-back. In this strategy, providers ask their patients to repeat in their own words, or teach back, key healthcare concepts or treatments relevant to the patient.

“The goal of teach-back is to ensure that you have explained medical information clearly so that patients and their families understand what you communicated to them,” AHRQ stated. “This low-cost, low-technology intervention can be the gateway to better communication, better understanding, and ultimately shared decision-making.”

Additionally, when patients fully understand relevant medical jargon, they can hold their providers accountable. Armed with this knowledge, patients can question, or even correct, providers who say a treatment requires a certain drug at a certain dosage but prescribe something else.

“Finding ways to improve communication between clinicians and their patients and their families can directly address patient safety problems,” AHRQ wrote.

There is much to be said about the element of patient empowerment that stems from education. By ensuring a patient is well-informed of her healthcare, providers improve the chances that she will ask a question about her treatment or point out a potential medication error. If she feels as though she doesn’t know much about her health, she may be more reluctant to do so.

By coupling education with access to health data, patients can play a considerable role in reducing adverse safety events. Ultimately, this can be key in improving the overall patient experience.

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