Patient accessible electronic health records (PAEHR) hold the potential to increase patient empowerment, especially for patients with complex, long-term or chronic conditions. However, evidence of its benefits for patients who undergo mental health treatment is unclear and inconsistent, and several concerns towards use of PAEHR emerged among health professionals. This study aimed at exploring the impact of PAEHR among mental health professionals in terms of patient-provider relationship, changes in the way of writing in the electronic health records and reasons for denying access to information.
In-depth qualitative interviews with health professionals working in two mental health outpatient clinics at Helgelandssykehuset in Northern Norway, one of the first hospitals in Norway to implement the PAEHR in 2015. The interviews were conducted by phone or videoconferencing, audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analyzed by a multidisciplinary research team using the Framework Method.
A total of 16 in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted in April and May 2020. The PAEHR implemented in Norway was seen as a tool to increase transparency and improve the patient-provider relationship. The PAEHR was seen to have negative consequences only in limited situations, such as for patients with severe mental conditions, for child protective services when parents access their children’s journal, or for patients with abusive partners. The functionality to deny access to the journal was used rarely. A more common practice for making information not immediately available was to delay the final approval of the notes. The documentation practices changed over the years, but it was not clear to what extent the changes were attributable to the introduction of the PAEHR. Health professionals write their notes keeping in mind that patients might read them, and they try to avoid unclear language, information about third parties, and hypotheses that might create confusion.
The concerns voiced by mental health professionals regarding the impact of the PAEHR on the patient-provider relationship and practices to deny access to information were not supported by the results of this study. Future research should explore changes in documentation practices by analysing the content of the electronic health records.