Blease, C.R., O'Neill, S.F., Torous, J., DesRoches, C.M. and Hagglund, M., 2021. Patient Access to Mental Health Notes: Motivating Evidence-Informed Ethical Guidelines. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 209(4), pp.265-269.
In the last decade, many health organizations have embarked on a revolution in clinical communication. Using electronic devices, patients can now gain rapid access to their online clinical records. Legally, patients in many countries already have the right to obtain copies of their health records; however, the practice known as “open notes” is different. Via secure online health portals, patients are now able to access their test results, lists of medications, and the very words that clinicians write about them. Open notes are growing with most patients in the Nordic countries already offered access to their full electronic record. From April 2021, a new federal ruling in the United States mandates—with few exemptions—that providers offer patients access to their online notes (Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Department of Health and Human Services, Available at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-03-04/pdf/2019-02224.pdf#page=99). Against these policy changes, only limited attention has been paid to the ethical question about whether patients with mental health conditions should access their notes, as mentioned in the articles by Strudwick, Yeung, and Gratzer (Front Psychiatry 10:917, 2019) and Blease, O’Neill, Walker, Hägglund, and Torous (Lancet Psychiatry 7:924–925, 2020). In this article, our goal is to motivate further inquiry into opening mental health notes to patients, particularly among persons with serious mental illness and those accessing psychological treatments. Using biomedical ethical principles to frame our discussion, we identify key empirical questions that must be pursued to inform ethical practice guidelines.