WHEN THE 21ST CENTURY CURES ACT became law on Dec. 13, 2016, it required health care systems to give patients full access to their electronic medical records by April 5, 2021. Before then, medical records had been created for health care providers to document appointments and communicate updates to other clinicians. Online health care portals were available for patients to request appointments or view lab results, but patients couldn’t access doctors’ complete notes, which included appointment summaries, as well as diagnosis and prognosis information. If patients wanted to read these notes, they usually had to undergo a long and sometimes expensive request process.
That all changed effective April 5. With few exceptions, such as psychotherapy notes, patients now have immediate access to their complete medical records. When test results come in, those results appear online immediately without patients having to wait for a clinician to share them.
It’s a significant change. Despite the benefits of patients being able to see their own health records, the 21st Century Cures Act has prompted questions about whether this access could cause distress for patients with serious illnesses, such as cancer.