Article

Should Patients Get Direct Access to Their Laboratory Test Results? An Answer With Many Questions

Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, United States
JAMA The Journal of the American Medical Association (Impact Factor: 30.39). 11/2011; 306(22):2502-3. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2011.1797
Source: PubMed
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    ABSTRACT: Patients are increasingly using the Internet to communicate with health care providers and access general and personal health information. Missed test results have been identified as a critical safety issue with studies showing up to 75% of tests for emergency department (ED) patients not being followed-up. One strategy that could reduce the likelihood of important results being missed is for ED patients to have direct access to their test results. This could be achieved electronically using a patient portal tied to the hospital's electronic medical record or accessed from the relevant laboratory information system. Patients have expressed interest in accessing test results directly, but there have been no reported studies on emergency physicians' opinions. The aim was to explore emergency physicians' current practices of test result notification and attitudes to direct patient notification of clinically significant abnormal and normal test results. A cross-sectional survey was self-administered by senior emergency physicians (site A: n=50; site B: n=39) at 2 large public metropolitan teaching hospitals in Australia. Outcome measures included current practices for notification of results (timing, methods, and responsibilities) and concerns with direct notification. The response rate was 69% (61/89). More than half of the emergency physicians (54%, 33/61) were uncomfortable with patients receiving direct notification of abnormal test results. A similar proportion (57%, 35/61) was comfortable with direct notification of normal test results. Physicians were more likely to agree with direct notification of normal test results if they believed it would reduce their workload (OR 5.72, 95% CI 1.14-39.76). Main concerns were that patients could be anxious (85%, 52/61), confused (92%, 56/61), and lacking in the necessary expertise to interpret their results (90%, 55/61). Although patients' direct access to test results could serve as a safety net reducing the likelihood of abnormal results being missed, emergency physicians' concerns need further exploration: which results are suitable and the timing and method of direct release to patients. Methods of access, including secure Web-based patient portals with drill-down facilities providing test descriptions and result interpretations, or laboratories sending results directly to patients, need evaluation to ensure patient safety is not compromised and the processes fit with ED clinician and laboratory work practices and patient needs.
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    ABSTRACT: To determine physician perspectives about direct notification of normal and abnormal test results. We conducted a cross-sectional survey at five clinical sites in the US and Australia. The US-based study was conducted via web-based survey of primary care physicians and specialists between July and October 2012. An identical paper-based survey was self-administered between June and September 2012 with specialists in Australia. Of 1417 physicians invited, 315 (22.2%) completed the survey. Two-thirds (65.3%) believed that patients should be directly notified of normal results, but only 21.3% were comfortable with direct notification of clinically significant abnormal results. Physicians were more likely to endorse direct notification of abnormal results if they believed it would reduce the number of patients lost to follow-up (OR=4.98, 95%CI=2.21-1.21) or if they had personally missed an abnormal test result (OR=2.95, 95%CI=1.44-6.02). Conversely, physicians were less likely to endorse if they believed that direct notification interfered with the practice of medicine (OR=0.39, 95%CI=0.20-0.74). Physicians we surveyed generally favor direct notification of normal results but appear to have substantial concerns about direct notification of abnormal results. Widespread use of direct notification should be accompanied by strategies to help patients manage test result abnormalities they receive. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd.
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    ABSTRACT: CONTEXT: Failure to notify patients of test results is common even when electronic health records (EHRs) are used to report results to practitioners. We sought to understand the broad range of social and technical factors that affect test result management in an integrated EHR-based health system. METHODS: Between June and November 2010, we conducted a cross-sectional, web-based survey of all primary care practitioners (PCPs) within the Department of Veterans Affairs nationwide. Survey development was guided by a socio-technical model describing multiple inter-related dimensions of EHR use. FINDINGS: Of 5001 PCPs invited, 2590 (51.8%) responded. 55.5% believed that the EHRs did not have convenient features for notifying patients of test results. Over a third (37.9%) reported having staff support needed for notifying patients of test results. Many relied on the patient's next visit to notify them for normal (46.1%) and abnormal results (20.1%). Only 45.7% reported receiving adequate training on using the EHR notification system and 35.1% reported having an assigned contact for technical assistance with the EHR; most received help from colleagues (60.4%). A majority (85.6%) stayed after hours or came in on weekends to address notifications; less than a third reported receiving protected time (30.1%). PCPs strongly endorsed several new features to improve test result management, including better tracking and visualization of result notifications. CONCLUSIONS: Despite an advanced EHR, both social and technical challenges exist in ensuring notification of test results to practitioners and patients. Current EHR technology requires significant improvement in order to avoid similar challenges elsewhere.
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