Will Accessing Lab Results Cause More Stress, or Less?

If waiting for test results can be stressful, having direct or immediate access to them poses its own challenges. After I posted my piece on showing empathy for anxious patients waiting for lab results, I was forwarded the link to this New York Times Blog piece in which the author took us into the experience of a young woman accessing the results of her blood work online. Instead of her results, what appeared on her screen were the words “Contact Doctor’s Office.” Immediately, she did what she was told—only to find herself unable to reach her doctor for three harrowing days. The piece focuses on the trend toward making electronic lab results directly accessible to patients. On the one hand, quicker access means patients spend less time not knowing what is going on with them while busy physicians try to find time to make a phone call to deliver their results. On the other, accessing test results directly means that unfamiliar hard-to-interpret test results could cause undue alarm to patients not versed in medical and laboratory jargon—potentially causing panicked phone calls not unlike the one the article described.

As medical records and test results become more widely available online, patients have to ask themselves, “How do I prefer to learn about my test results?” Would I rather see them online sooner, or wait to hear about them from my doctor or nurse? I invite you to share your thoughts.

I would also be interested in hearing from healthcare providers about the “waiting for test results” challenge. Do you think electronic lab results are a good thing for patients, or a bad thing? How do you currently prepare patients for receiving test results—either in person or online?