Publication Date



The Milbank Quarterly


UNLABELLED: Policy Points Patients and families can identify clinically relevant errors, including "blindspots"-safety hazards that are difficult for clinicians or organizations to see. Health information transparency, including patient access to electronic visit notes, now federally mandated in the US and the subject of policy debate worldwide, creates a new opportunity to engage patients in diagnostic safety. However, not all patients access notes. Patient identification of blindspots in their notes underscores the need to systematically and equitably engage willing patients in safety, promote patient "good catches," and establish routine systems for patient feedback to help avoid preventable diagnostic errors and delays.

CONTEXT: Policy shifts toward health information transparency provide a new opportunity for patients to contribute to diagnostic safety. We investigated whether sharing clinical notes with patients can support identification of "diagnostic safety blindspots"-potentially consequential breakdowns in the diagnostic process that may be difficult for clinical staff to observe.

METHOD: We used mixed methods to analyze patient-reported ambulatory documentation errors among 22,889 patients at three US health care centers who read ≥ 1 visit note(s). We identified blindspots by tailoring a previously established taxonomy. We used multiple regression analysis to identify factors associated with blindspot identification.

FINDINGS: 774 patients reported a total of 962 blindspots in 4 categories: (1) diagnostic misalignments (n = 421, 43.8%), including inaccurate symptoms or histories and failures or delay in diagnosis; (2) errors of omission (38.1%) including missed main concerns or next steps, and failure to listen to patients; (3) problems occurring outside visits (14.3%) such as tests, referrals, or appointment access; and (4) multiple low-level problems (3.7%) cascading into diagnostic breakdowns. Many patients acted on the blindspots they identified, resulting in "good catches" that may prevent potential negative consequences. Older, female, sicker, unemployed or disabled patients, or those who work in health care were more likely to identify a blindspot. Individuals reporting less formal education; those self-identifying as Black, Asian, other, or multiple races; and participants who deferred decision-making to providers were less likely to report a blindspot.

CONCLUSION: Patients who read notes have unique insight about potential errors in their medical records that could impact diagnostic reasoning but may not be known to clinicians-underscoring a critical role for patients in diagnostic safety and organizational learning. From a policy standpoint, organizations should encourage patient review of visit notes, build systems to track patient-reported blindspots, and promote equity in note access and blindspot reporting.


patient engagement, patient portal, patient advocacy, patient safety



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.