Mutual Matters

Communication and the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Posted by Kristen on Aug 25, 2016 4:00:00 PM

As reimbursement models shift away from fee-for-service, physicians and hospitals are being faced with the need to increase patient engagement and patient satisfaction. Patients want to become more active participants in their healthcare, but often there is no clear plan on how to engage them. Many physicians may be unsure of how to proceed. At MagMutual we know that improved communication between the physician and patient will help to eliminate the possibility of future claims. The MagMutual Patient Safety Institute’s analysis of five year closed claims data revealed 20% of our claims can be directly tied to a breakdown in communication.

In 2010 a national initiative began that allowed patients to access the doctor notes in their medical records began. 100 primary care doctors from three diverse medical institutions participated by sharing the medical records with the patient. The study, formally known as the “OpenNotes Project”, which took place over a 12-month period of time, demonstrated that patient care became more effective, communication was improved, and patients were more actively involved in their healthcare, despite concerns about making notes on challenging topics such as obesity, mental health, cancer, or substance abuse available.[1]

The basis for this study comes from the idea that transparency can help promote better communication between patients and doctors. Sharing your notes with patients, whether during the appointment or afterwards, allows the patient to check the accuracy of the information you’ve collected, and gives patients the opportunity to understand your treatment rationale. Having access to your notes may also provide patients with clarification about their treatment plan, prescriptions, and health conditions.

Similar to the “OpenNotes Project”, patient portals in medical practices and hospitals can also increase communication between doctors and their patients. The patient portal may be particularly helpful to patients with chronic conditions, patients undergoing significant testing, self-monitoring and self reporting, patients receiving ongoing complicated treatment and/ or for those patients recovering from significant trauma.

In a study of over 5,000 patients who used the patient portal to read notes from their doctors, an overwhelming 77% to 87% reported feeling more in control of their healthcare.[2] With the patient portal, patients can send messages to their doctors, request a service or book an appointment, obtain their health information, or submit information or data.

Some medical practices and hospitals find that there has been slow adoption of this resource. Making it easier for the patient to make appointments, review test results, message the staff, or access notes will be great incentives for the patients to come on board. Additionally, if the portal becomes an integral part of the medical practice’s or hospital’s workflow, the portal will be a valuable asset for both patients and staff members.

By opening the lines of communication, patients may feel more comfortable discussing certain issues with their doctor and will become more active in their own health management.  The goal is to provide safer and more informed care.


Further Reading:

Levy, MA, Gail. October 1, 2014 5 steps to maximize your patient portal and boost practice efficiency.

Peck, Andrea Downing. August 29, 2014. How to optimize your patient portal.


[1] Wen, Leana. August 17, 2014. When Patients Read What Their Doctors Write.; see also  


[2]  Ellis Jr., MD, FACP, George G. December 25, 2012. Patient portals help improve communication. ; citing Delbanco, T, et al.  Inviting Patients to Read Their Doctors’ Notes: A Quasi-experimental Study and a Look Ahead.  Annals of Internal Medicine 2012 October 4; 157(7): 461-470.


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As one of the leading mutual providers of Medical Professional Liability insurance, we're here to help all healthcare professionals with the challenges they face on a daily basis. The topics we cover include: 

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