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Dr. Ken’s Corner: Giving Patients Online Access to Lab Results: A Good Idea?

Traditionally, physicians have been the first to see their patient’s laboratory test results. The patient usually comes into the office for a follow-up appointment at which time the doctor explains the lab results, putting them into the context of the patient’s health condition. But what if the patient had immediate online access to lab results, even before seeing the doctor?  How would they react emotionally? This was the question posed in a recent survey of 1546 Kaiser Permanent members.

Dr. Ken Teufel is the Medical Director at Interim Physicians.

The findings: Only 1% of patients reported feeling “angry,” 2% were “upset,” and 4% were “afraid.” By contrast, nearly three-fourths (72%) reported being “satisfied,” 68% were “appreciative,” 49% were “happy,” and 46% “relieved.” Although the majority reported positive feelings, it should be noted that most of the lab tests are likely to have been reported as being normal and, therefore, less likely to generate anxiety.

The authors of this study caution that providing patients with online access to lab results is no substitute for good follow-up and doctor-patient communication. They add that the way patients react to viewing results online is strongly influenced by whether or not their doctors set expectations in advance. This helps prevent confusion and misinterpretation, and patients are much more likely to react with positive rather than negative emotions.

Source: Journal of Participatory Medicine, Vol. 5, October 3, 2013.