Patient engagement doesn't negate physicians' responsibility

Increasingly, health systems across the United States are moving toward an approach which aims to increase patients' involvement in their own care. The idea is that patients who take ownership of their treatment through deeper engagement can help improve their own quality of care and achieve better outcomes.

One program that is allowing patients to do this is Open Notes, a program aimed at encouraging providers to allow patients to have access to doctors' office notes. The impetus behind the initiative is partly the fact that, under federal law, more Medicare money is available to hospitals and doctors who get better outcomes for patients. It's also partly about avoiding potential errors. 

Patients who are able to read their doctor's notes are able to have a better understanding of why the doctor is ordering tests or prescribing medications, what their current condition is and what options they have in terms of treatment and the relative benefits and drawbacks of treatment options. Patients, of course, are not trained in medical science, but all of this can help make for better outcomes by virtue of the fact that the patient is more involved in the process.

Despite the increasing popularity and positive benefits of patient engagement, though, it is still important to remember that physicians are bound by professional standards of care that cannot be left to the responsibility of the patient. Physicians may be able to improve their outcomes when their patients are better engaged, but they still maintain responsibility for their own acts of negligence.

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