A new Department of Health and Human Services rule announced this week allows patients to request their medical tests results directly from the lab instead of having to go through a doctor's office.
The rule, which came about through a change to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was announced Monday by HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
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"Information like lab results can empower patients to track their health progress, make decisions with their healthcare professionals, and adhere to important treatment plans," she said in a statement.
The new rule seeks to cut out on the middleman — the doctor's office — because a lot of information can get lost in translation. According to a 2009 study in The Archives of Internal Medicine
, one out of 14 patients never learned about their negative test results from their doctor, either because of an oversight or because the doctor was unable to reach the patient.
"Studies show that patients who have access to their health records tend to be more engaged in decision making than those who don't, and may even be more likely to follow treatment protocols and other behaviors that promote favorable outcomes," Jon Cohen, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Quest Diagnostics, told USA Today
Under the new policy, patients may request to receive their lab results via email, a secure website, or through an application to their smart phone. They can also ask for a hard copy of the results, but might have to pay for postage, according to USA Today.
Some medical providers, however, think the new rule could do patients more harm than good because they might not always be able to properly interpret the results. For example, a typical blood test could display more than two dozen different levels, along with a control line for the normal range.
"If you get those labs, and on that piece of paper are two numbers written in red, you just see that they’re abnormal," Reid B. Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told the Washington Post
. "That’s where the harm comes, because you don’t know what to do with that information."
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