Traditionally, most hospitals have separated out the psychiatric record from a patient’s medical record. This was done historically because of the stigma and discrimination associated with psychiatric concerns — and the serious lack of training in medical school for physicians to understand such information in proper context.
As hospitals move to electronic records, the default behavior has been to simply keep things as they are — so no more processes than necessary have to change at the same time. This means keeping the psychiatric information in the electronic record segregated from a patient’s medical information.
But in an intriguing new study just published — on a very small cohort — researchers found that where hospitals allowed any properly authorized medical staffer to access the patient’s psychiatric information in the electronic health record (EHR), hospital readmissions went down.
Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate whether opening up the sharing of such information among all doctors on a patient’s treatment team might actually be a good thing.
To get the data, the researchers surveyed 18 hospitals on the 2007 U.S. News and World Report list of the “Best Hospitals in the United States.”
“Of that group, eight hospitals (44 percent) kept most or all of their inpatient psychiatric records electronically, and five (28 percent) let non-psychiatrist physicians see mental health records, including psychiatric admission notes, discharge summaries, notes from the emergency department, and consultation notes.”
Just four hospitals did both. Among this latter group, however, readmission rates for psychiatric patients were substantially lower than at the others on the list. Here’s what they found:
Top teaching hospitals that provided non-psychiatrists with electronic access to inpatient psychiatric records had up to 39% lower rates of readmissions within 7, 14, and 30 days of initial discharge than comparable institutions that did not include inpatient psychiatric notes in their EHRs. Full access also cut 7-day readmission rates by as much as to 27% when compared to hospitals that did not let primary care and emergency physicians see psychiatric records in the EHR
I only have one concern — that non-psychiatrist physicians treat the psychiatric information with the same care they would as if it were their own information. Sometimes doctors are a little too loose with a patient’s medical information when talking to other docs — especially in public places where many others may hear (like an elevator).
I’m also concerned that stigma, discrimination, prejudice and misunderstanding are still fairly rampant among some physicians — especially in certain specialties. Without proper education and training, I worry that some doctors may misuse or inappropriately share information gleaned from a patient’s psychiatric record. Proper education and training could readily solve this concern, however.
Patients, too, ultimately benefit from such increased sharing, as this study — if confirmed by others — demonstrates. If patients are afraid of this development, I usually find information is the best remedy — showing patients exactly what is and isn’t in their medical and psychiatric charts. Patients, of course, have a right to view their medical and psychiatric records in their entirety. In most instances, once a patient sees how little is actually in their psychiatric or mental treatment progress notes (if it’s being properly maintained), they’re usually satisfied.
I’m a big believer in the benefits of transparency and open communication. If giving doctors access to all relevant data of a patient — including their psychiatric history — can help patients receive better care, why not do it?
Read the full article: Sharing Psychiatry EHR Data Cuts Readmission Rates