79% of Americans are interested in reading their medical records, according to a recent survey. That’s a good thing, because doctors can make mistakes recording notes in medical records that can lead to unintended health consequences based on faulty data.

Doctors are chatting about finding mistakes in their own patient medical records. The chat is happening on the social networking site Sermo – a website that is accessible only by clinicians. The site is attracting thousands of physicians who want a place to talk about issues of concern in a safe environment…the way they might have done on the golf course or in the doctors’ lounge. No time for that these days.

There are many reasons for mistakes showing up in medical records; sloppy handwriting might come to mind. A Time magazine article published earlier this year noted that 7,000 Americans die annually due to a doctor’s bad penmanship.

But there are other reasons that need addressing. Sometimes the mistakes are due to coding errors. Other reasons for errors in medical records are attributable to the time-pressed physician who may not take the time to fully record notes about a patient’s symptoms.

Patients should periodically check their medical records just as one might check your credit report. Patients have a right to request a copy of their medical records under HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. When you sign a HIPAA form before a doctor’s office visit, you’re endorsing various privacy agreements. But under the law, you as a patient also have the right to review, get a copy, and amend your medical record.

The Georgetown Center on Medical Record Rights and Privacy has a website linking to the 50 States’ laws on medical privacy.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Here is a facet of health care consumerism that often gets short-shrift. Too many people do not ask to see their medical records, although they have every right to do so. This is particularly important for people with chronic conditions who often visit physician offices (so the probability of a mistake appearing in a medical record increases). If physicians have found errors in their own records that peers keep for them, you’d better believe that the average Jane and Joe’s record will feature at least as many mistakes.