Following a landmark February 2014 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ruling that gives patients direct access to their laboratory results, much has been said about the rule’s implications on patients and providers. Michael J. Young, MPhil, of Harvard Medical School, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that “timely and tactful communication with patients will be essential to mitigate possible detrimental effects of incorrectly interpreted test results” as a result of this new rule.
Young went on to suggest that patients be counseled before tests are ordered so as to minimize the rule’s uncertainty and maximize its efficacy. Patient education and counseling should continue once lab results become available, he added. The new ruling, which took effect April 7, 2014, gives labs until October 6, 2014, to comply.
Francisco R. Velázquez, MD, SM, president and chief executive officer of the reference lab PAML LLC and PAML Ventures, agrees that there is reason to be concerned that patients could over-interpret test results. “I do think that providing patients access to this information is important within the context of educating as well as empowering consumers to take an active role in their care,” he says. “An educated and engaged patient or consumer is a better patient or consumer.” Velázquez discussed the new rule with CLN in April.
Also, clinicians should learn how best to communicate test results that patients may already have in hand prior to their appointments. “This new rule offers all of us providers a unique opportunity to proactively communicate and educate patients about access to laboratory data, which historically for the most part has only been available through traditional providers,” Velázquez says. “Providing patients with direction as to what is available and what their responsibility is in that process will take minimal time and may have great benefits.”
AACC has long supported patient empowerment and health literacy through LabTestsOnline.org, an online tool that enables patients to learn more about why laboratory tests are performed and how the results are used in their care.
The new rule also serves as an important starting point for discussion between patients and providers—and laboratorians play a key role, too. “For laboratories, it is a great opportunity to provide a value-added service to physicians and providers by offering information about this new rule and access to test-specific information, which may be shared with patients as they discuss their options with their providers.”
It's just one more service that laboratory professionals can provide to other medical professionals, Velázquez says. “Laboratories and laboratorians already provide a significant amount of education and consultation to providers. This would add one more but very significant opportunity to actively participate in patient care,” he says.