The Importance of Visit Notes on Patient Portals for Engaging Less Educated or Nonwhite Patients: Survey Study

Gerard, Macda; Chimowitz, Hannah; Fossa, Alan; Bourgeois, Fabienne; Fernandez, Leonor; Bell, Sigall K.
Journal of Medical Internet Research

Background: OpenNotes, a national initiative to share clinicians’ visit notes with patients, can improve patient engagement, but effects on vulnerable populations are not known very well. Objective: Our aim is to examine the importance of visit notes to nonwhite and less educated patients. Methods: Patients at an urban academic medical center with an active patient portal account and ≥1 available ambulatory visit note over the prior year were surveyed during June 2016 until September 2016. The survey was designed with patients and families and assessed importance of reading notes (scale 0-10) for (1) understanding health conditions, (2) feeling informed about care, (3) understanding the provider’s thought process, (4) remembering the plan of care, and (5) making decisions about care. We compared the proportion of patients reporting 9-10 (extremely important) for each item stratified by education level, race/ethnicity, and self-reported health. Principal component analysis and correlation measures supported a summary score for the 5 items (Cronbach alpha=.93). We examined factors associated with rating notes as extremely important to engage in care using logistic regression. Results: Of 24,722 patients, 6913 (27.96%) completed the survey. The majority (6736/6913, 97.44%) read at least one note. Among note readers, 74.0% (727/982) of patients with ≤high school education, 70.7% (130/184) of black patients, and 69.9% (153/219) of Hispanic/Latino patients reported that notes are extremely important to feel informed about their care. The majority of less educated and nonwhite patients reported notes as extremely important to remember the care plan (62.4%, 613/982 ≤high school education; 62.0%, 114/184 black patients; and 61.6%, 135/219 Hispanic/Latino patients) and to make care decisions (62.3%, 612/982; 59.8%, 110/184; and 58.5%, 128/219, respectively, and P<.003 for all comparisons to more educated and white patients, respectively). Among patients with the poorest self-reported health, 65.9% (499/757) found notes extremely important to be informed and to understand the provider. On multivariable modeling, less educated patients were nearly three times as likely to report notes were extremely important to engage in care compared with the most educated patients (odds ratio [OR] 2.9, 95% CI 2.4-3.3). Nonwhite patients were twice as likely to report the same compared with white patients (OR 2.0, 95% CI 1.5-2.7 [black] and OR 2.2, 95% CI 1.6-2.9 [Hispanic/Latino and Asian], P<.001 for each comparison). Healthier patients, women, older patients, and those who read more notes were more likely to find notes extremely important to engage in care. Conclusions: Less educated and nonwhite patients using the portal each assigned higher importance to reading notes for several health behaviors than highly educated and white patients, and may find transparent notes especially valuable for understanding their health and engaging in their care. Facilitating access to notes may improve engagement in health care for some vulnerable populations who have historically been more challenging to reach.