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Online Tool Helps Patients Comprehend their EHR Notes

March 10, 2017
by Heather Landi
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Many healthcare organizations allow patients to access their own electronic health record (EHR) notes through online patient portals as a way to enhance patient-centered care.

However, EHR notes contain medical terminology, technical language and complex disease and medication names that may make it difficult for the average patient to comprehend to the information in their own medical record.

Hong Yu, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s College of Information and Computer Science, and a team of researchers set out to create an online tool that simplifies the complex medical terms that appear in clinical notes by replacing it with simple, user-understandable terms.

The tool, Clinical NotesAid, is a biomedical natural language processing (NLP) system that “links clinical jargon to corresponding lay terms, definitions, and other related patient education materials” to help patients better understand clinical notes, according to the Clinical NotesAid site.

To use the tool, users copy and paste free text from their EHR notes into an on-screen box and click a “simplify” button. The tool is publicly available and includes thousands of definitions of medical concepts.

According to a study written by Yu and her team about the Clinical NotesAid tool, 90 million Americans have limited health literacy. A pilot evaluation of the online tool indicated that use of the NoteAid improved EHR note comprehension.

“Studies have shown that patient education can improve health knowledge, and education-based behavioral intervention can help improve self-management behaviors and reduce hospitalizations. We therefore speculate that NoteAid will increase patient comprehension of their EHR notes and therefore improve the quality of patient care,” Yu wrote in the study publication.

Yu, who also works at the Bedford Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, MA, and the researchers developed the tool under a grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Yu says with the ongoing focus on patient-centered care, it is important that patients be able to comprehend their EHR notes. “Studies have shown that providing patients with access to their own EHR notes may improve the understanding of their own clinical conditions and treatments, leading to improved health care outcomes,” she says, noting that enhancing medical understanding and improving healthcare management is particularly important for patients with chronic conditions.



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