Online Access to Tests Results Embraced by Patients

This increasing access is being accompanied by widespread concern about patients receiving results without the intermediation of physicians.

Patients largely react positively to seeing test results online, according to a study of more than 1,500 Kaiser Permanente (KP) members, which also served to illustrate the influence of physician-patient prior communication on patients’ reactions and their follow up actions.

The report noted that patient access to laboratory test results through online patient portals is growing across the United States and other countries, and this increasing access is being accompanied by widespread concern about patients receiving results without the intermediation of physicians.

"Physician concerns about negative patient reactions might be contributing to a delay in the wide implementation of online test results, even when the software is already available," the report noted. "These concerns might also give rise to a restrictive approach to online test results access."

On the test results pages of the KP website members can view the results of their test, the standard range for the test, and general information about the type of test. Also included are comments their doctors may have added, and details such as when follow up tests should be done.

The most common thing members did after they viewed their online lab test results was to speak to family and friends about the results. Other typical activities were: looking up information on the KP member website, using the graphing tool of the test results feature to make a graph of their results over time, and looking up information on website other than KP’s (such as WebMD).

In addition, a small fraction of respondents said they communicated with their doctors via email or telephone or made a doctor’s appointment as a result of viewing their test results.

More often than not, participants viewed test results for themselves only (84 percent of respondents), while a small proportion viewed test results for themselves and someone else (9 percent), and 6 percent viewed test results for only someone else.

The KP website allows members to establish proxy relationships for family members so that they may act on their behalf. With these relationships in place, members may view lab test results for those with whom they have established proxy access.

Large percentages of participants indicated that they felt extremely, using words such as satisfied, appreciative, calm, happy, and relieved. Small proportions of respondents said they felt extremely worried, confused, afraid, upset, or angry as a result of viewing lab test results online.

"For patients, this study confirms what they have long known, that they want and can handle the results of their laboratory tests, and are for the most part eager to see those results as soon as possible," the report concluded. "For practices that have already implemented online test result access but are still limiting access to a small number of results, our findings might provide a good basis for expanding access to results."