Many people have experienced the anxiety of waiting for medical test results. The longer we wait, the worse we may imagine the outcome to be. We might be waiting to find out if a tumor is benign, if our blood sugar is out-of-kilter or our arteries are blocked, any of which could lead to major life changes and challenging decisions. As health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn of Health Populi points out, this is in part because 60 to 70 percent of medical decisions regarding a person's treatment rely on the findings from lab tests. She adds that, 'In the emerging accountable care era, patients need to share in decision making with their doctors. That means patients need to know their numbers: what they mean, and how changing them can impact their future quality and length of life.
We also want to get our test results back as quickly as possible. Research has shown that roughly 80 percent of patients would rather have online access to such results within three days, no matter how dense the jargon, than wait a week or longer for a doctor's interpretation. Emily Gibson, M.D., of the Barnstorming blog agrees: 'We physicians can and should provide better service in getting all test results back to our patients quickly. Every clinical setting is unique, but there is no valid reason why any result should not be communicated back to the patient on the day it is received, preferably within minutes.
In her post Why You Need to Be among the First to Get Your Test Results, Barbara Bronson Gray also advises people not to wait for their doctor to share test results with them. Barbara recommends telling your lab or physician to have a copy of your test results sent directly to you. She suggests that this step could potentially decrease the stress of waiting, give you more time to formulate questions for your doctor or do research before your next appointment.
However, Christy Johnson of the Living with Graves blog shows that getting your test results is often not so easily accomplished. In Christy's case, despite providing a pre-addressed envelope at every doctor's appointment, her results were never mailed to her. When her doctor asked why she wanted to see them, she replied, Because I am trying to be very proactive about my health and I can't do that if you don't provide me with the information I need to do that.
Though Kevin Campbell, MD, supports real-time access for patients, he also sees the need for a health care provider to interpret lab results. Dr. Campbell writes, Certainly, all patients are not going to be able to fully understand and interpret the results as dictated in a report, but at least they will not remain in purgatory waiting to hear? Remember, we want our patients to be engaged in their own healthcare. They trust their provider to shepherd them through the maze of diagnostic testing that medicine often requires.
Dr. Val Jones plays devil's advocate by asking, "Should patients have access to lab test results before their physician reviews them?" Though Dr. Jones understands the nervousness that accompanies waiting for test results, she worries that interpreting test results without a medical professional may induce more anxiety: "I'm not arguing that patients can't understand test results on their own, but medicine has its own brand of jargon and nuances that require experience to interpret."
What do you think? Should patients have immediate access to their lab results?