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Survey: Patients Want Medical Test Results via Web Portals

November 2, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Patients are most comfortable receiving medical test results through password-protected websites or portals, according to a recent Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) survey.

The survey of 409 participants, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, suggests that while password-protected web portals are highly preferred, participants don’t mind a variety of non in-person communication methods including email, texts or voicemail for receiving results of common tests such as blood cholesterol levels. However, that is not the case for two very sensitive tests—non-HIV sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and genetic test results. In those cases, receiving the results via a password-protected patient portal/website was highly preferred, the researchers found.

The survey tested the desirability of seven different methods of non-in-person communication in receiving three different kinds of tests: common tests such as blood cholesterol and colonoscopy results; non-HIV STIs; and genetic testing (predisposition to a disorder, carrier of an inherited gene linked to a disease and a carrier of a genetic disorder). The seven methods of communications surveyed were a password-protected patient portal website, phone voicemail, personal email, letter, home voicemail, fax and mobile phone text.

Researchers found that in all categories, patients were least comfortable receiving information via fax. Half or more preferred receiving cholesterol or colonoscopy results in four methods: password-protected patient portal websites, personal voicemail, personal email or letter. The majority did not want to receive a home voicemail, mobile text message or a fax.

For receiving results of STIs, only one method was preferred by the majority (51 percent) of participants — password-protected websites. No single method was preferred for genetic test results; the closest, at 46 percent, was also password-protected websites.

“Communication with patients may need to be on a case-by-case basis—every individual may have a personal preference, and there may be a way to indicate those preferences in the patient’s record. The goal of this study was to try to better understand these preferences, so we can improve doctor-patient communication,” Jeannine LaRocque, Ph.D., the study’s lead researcher and assistant professor of human science in the School of Nursing & Health Studies at GUMC, said in a statement.

It is not uncommon for a physician to call or email a patient with results to common tests without any idea of which is preferred in different contexts, but “this study makes clear that the majority of people prefer something different than what we’ve been doing,” added the study’s senior researcher, Daniel Merenstein, M.D., director of research programs in the department of family medicine at GUMC.

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