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Devil in the details: understanding the effects of providing electronic health record access to patients and families
  1. Urmimala Sarkar,
  2. Courtney Lyles
  1. Division of General Internal Medicine, UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Hospital, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Urmimala Sarkar, Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA; Urmimala.Sarkar{at}

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Patient advocates have long called for patients to have access to all of their healthcare data, including electronic health records (EHRs).1 In parallel, experts have suggested that providing patients with access to EHRs will improve patient engagement, care quality, and, by extension, health/healthcare outcomes.2 Prior observational studies have supported some of these claims—for example, documenting that patients are overwhelmingly interested in and satisfied with receiving their healthcare data electronically,3 to finding that patients do identify errors when they read physician notes in the EHR.4 Because studies of EHR access for patients have been conducted and disseminated across disparate clinical conditions and settings and often using varied methodologies, the systematic review by Neves et al in this issue of BMJ Quality & Safety provides a valuable contribution in assessing the impact of patients’ EHR access specifically within the randomised controlled trial (RCT) literature.5 Their meta-analysis demonstrates some significant but potentially limited benefits within these 20 RCTs that involved sharing EHR data/access with patients.

Overall, Neves et al found a few clear trends. First, there was a consistent, modest improvement in glycaemic control in RCTs targeting patients with diabetes, reinforcing the observational research focused on portal use for diabetes care.6 In addition, patient access to EHRs seemed to support safety of care in facilitating medication adherence and identification of medication discrepancies. These results are similar to observational studies,7 as well as a recent scoping review of patient engagement interventions to promote the safety of …

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