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Patients like immediate access to medical test results


Study examines effects of law that makes records available to patients.

Patients want access to medical test results as soon as they can get them through their electronic health records.

A new study found patients overwhelmingly want to see their test results regardless of whether their physicians examined the results – and even when findings are not normal. The results did cause worry among patients, and that was more common among patients with abnormal results.

The study was the largest to date to examine effects of the 21st Century Cures Act Final Rule that mandated immediate electronic availability of test results to patients.

Releasing the results could empower patients to better manage their health. However, the researchers acknowledged the early release could cause misinterpretation or emotional distress for patients.

“Our survey says misgivings are few and users overwhelmingly value it,” study leader Bryan Steitz, PhD, said in a news release. Steitz is instructor in Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

Studying results

In May 2022, researchers emailed surveys thousands of patients at four U.S. academic medical centers that all used the Epic MyChart patient portal: VUMC; University of California Davis Health; University of Colroado Anschutz Medical Center; and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

There were 8,139 responses, including 7,063 from patients; other respondents included care partners or recipients who did not use a patient portal. Among the respondents, 95.7% preferred to receive immediately test outcomes through their patient portals, including 95.3% of those with nonnormal results.

Just 7.5% reported having more worry when reviewing results before speaking with a health care practitioner, and more worry was more common – 16.5% – among patients with abnormal results.

Among the patients, 92.3% had received precounseling reasons for the tests, before the tests were ordered. Afterward, researchers found no association between precounseling and lower levels of worry.

With the results available, 43.3% of patients did not seek additional information, but 39.9% of patients sought additional information via Internet searches, “highlighting potential unmet information needs,” the study said.

“The switch to open results drew reservations from some quarters, but large increases in patient messaging with health care providers don’t appear to have arisen as much as expected,” Steitz said. “And, considering our survey findings, any worries that open results might send patient portal users over the edge appear to have been misplaced, at least in many situations.”

The study, “Perspectives of Patients About Immediate Access to Test Results Through an Online Patient Portal,” was published in JAMA Network Open.

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
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