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Psychiatrists' perceptions of conditions and consequences associated with the implementation of open notes: qualitative investigation.

BMC Psychiatry 2024 June 11
OBJECTIVE: In a growing list of countries, patients are granted access to their clinical notes ("open notes") as part of their online record access. Especially in the field of mental health, open notes remain controversial with some clinicians perceiving open notes as a tool for improving therapeutic outcomes by increasing patient involvement, while others fear that patients might experience psychological distress and perceived stigmatization, particularly when reading clinicians' notes. More research is needed to optimize the benefits and mitigate the risks.

METHODS: Using a qualitative research design, we conducted semi-structured interviews with psychiatrists practicing in Germany, to explore what conditions they believe need to be in place to ensure successful implementation of open notes in psychiatric practice as well as expected subsequent changes to their workload and treatment outcomes. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis.

RESULTS: We interviewed 18 psychiatrists; interviewees believed four key conditions needed to be in place prior to implementation of open notes including careful consideration of (1) diagnoses and symptom severity, (2) the availability of additional time for writing clinical notes and discussing them with patients, (3) available resources and system compatibility, and (4) legal and data protection aspects. As a result of introducing open notes, interviewees expected changes in documentation, treatment processes, and doctor-physician interaction. While open notes were expected to improve transparency and trust, participants anticipated negative unintended consequences including the risk of deteriorating therapeutic relationships due to note access-related misunderstandings and conflicts.

CONCLUSION: Psychiatrists practiced in Germany where open notes have not yet been established as part of the healthcare data infrastructure. Interviewees were supportive of open notes but had some reservations. They found open notes to be generally beneficial but anticipated effects to vary depending on patient characteristics. Clear guidelines for managing access, time constraints, usability, and privacy are crucial. Open notes were perceived to increase transparency and patient involvement but were also believed to raise issues of stigmatization and conflicts.

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