Even though more patients are able to access their lab results electronically, new research indicates that many do not understand what the numbers from those tests mean.
The researchers, from the University of Michigan Schools of Public Health and Medicine, asked more than 1,800 adults ages 40-70 to respond as though they had Type 2 diabetes (with nearly half having the disease). Along with numeric and literacy skills, the participants were given electronic lab results showing tests for hemoglobin A1c, which shows check blood sugar control.
What they found is that only 38 percent of those with lower numeracy and literacy scores could identify levels outside of the standard range. Contrastly, 77 percent of those with high numeracy and literacy skills were able to identify levels outside the standard range.
"We can spend all the money we want making sure that patients have access to their test results, but it won't matter if they don't know what to do with them," stated Brian Zikmund-Fisher, associate professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health. "The problem is many people can't imagine that giving someone an accurate number isn't enough, even if it is in complex format."
The study, reported online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, shows that there is a need for test results to be presented in a way that’s “intuitively meaningful,” says Zikmund-Fisher.