Direct patient access to test results adds new responsibilities for all
Last month, the federal government took a major step toward enhancing the ability of millions of Americans to access their health data and improve patient engagement as we know it in the U.S.
HHS issued a final rule that gives patients direct access to their personal laboratory information without first requiring the approval of their healthcare provider or other designated party. Before this rule, about a dozen states— including California, Florida and New York—prohibited direct patient access to their lab test results without their doctor’s prior receipt and approval.
This rule is significant for a number of reasons. Enabling patients to access their results directly from their lab provider will help reduce the risk that an abnormal result will not get acted upon. In a recent multi-institutional study, about 7.1% of abnormal results report- edly were not acted upon or communicated to patients.
Direct patient access to laboratory data will also foster a richer dialogue between physicians and patients, educate patients about their results and potentially reduce waiting times for patients to receive their results.
It is possible that it will also help reduce the duplication of tests and increase the portability of patient data across the continuum of care and healthcare settings.
But the most important benefit of the new rule is that it will enable millions of patients to play a greater role in their healthcare decisions. Empowered, engaged patients are critical to building a quality healthcare system.
The rule also imposes new responsibilities on providers and patients. Physicians will need to adjust to this greater transparency and engage with patients interested in understanding their test results to promote wellness and better disease management. Patients who request their results will need to recognize that access to this information does not substitute for professional medical advice—physicians remain central to test interpretation and clinical management.
Improving patient engagement is vital to improving outcomes, increasing quality and lowering healthcare costs— key goals to improving healthcare delivery in the U.S. The HHS rule, by empowering patients with diagnostic insights, is an important step toward creating a truly consumer-friendly, patient-centric healthcare system.
Dr. Jon Cohen is senior vice president and chief medical officer of Quest Diagnostics.