Laboratory and diagnostic test results are often the first clinical content of an online health record made available to patients, and in Canada, this has also been the case. Of note — highly sensitive or life changing test results are often delayed pending physician review and/or until patients receive and learn the results at an in-person visit.
In 2016, our Connecting Patients for Better Health report highlighted that 20 per cent of Canadians have online access to their health records. Just two years prior, in 2014, Canadians’ online access to their medical record was just six per cent nationally — mostly driven by online access to laboratory results made available in British Columbia. Naturally, health system leaders, clinicians and citizens were asking important questions at the time, such as: What are the benefits? Do patients/do I really understand the results? By not learning results in-person with a clinician, will patients/will I be more anxious?
To address these and other research questions we conducted a study in BC — comparing the experience of citizens who accessed their lab results online to those who learned their results in person. Released in 2015, the study added evidence from patients themselves to the national dialogue.
These findings continue to be relevant as citizen’s access to their health information continues to gain momentum across Canada. We highlight our answers to the above questions in our digital health myths series, specifically:
- Direct access to lab results does not result in increased contact with physician offices
- Patients who view their results online are no more anxious than those who wait to learn about them in person
- The majority (76%) of patients who first learned their lab results online were confident they understood the results
The last finding noted above is of particular importance. One quarter of patients, say they were not confident they understood their results. Ways to bridge this gap was an important theme that emerged from the 20 interviews with family physicians we completed as part of the study. A key recommendation included providing communication materials with test interpretation ‘keys’ at the point of ordering (at the doctor’s offices) and at medical labs where the test is conducted, particularly for tests being conducted for the first time.
When it comes to the value of citizen’s direct access to their lab results one physician interviewed put it best by saying,
“Time and time again it is seen that patients who are proactive about their health manage their health better, in cooperation, of course, with their physician… And it makes them more involved with the added benefit of online results. I think it improves patient care and patient autonomy and sense of responsibility for their own health.”
And patients in our survey resoundingly agreed:
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