Background: Many medical errors occur during the laboratory testing process, including lost test results. Patient inquiry concerning results often represents the final safety net for locating lost results. This qualitative study sought to identify, from a patient perspective, specific preferences and factors that influence the process of communicating normal (negative) laboratory test results to patients.
Methods: We conducted 30-minute guided interviews with 20 adult patients. Patients were recruited from two practice-based research networks in Colorado that were participating in a medical errors study. A semi-structured interview elicited the participant's experience with and preference for laboratory test result notification. Quantitative descriptive statistics were generated for demographic and preference data. Qualitative results were analyzed by a team of experienced qualitative researchers using multiple styles of qualitative analyses, including a template approach and an editing approach.
Results: Ninety percent of participants wanted to be notified of all tests results. Important issues related to notification included privacy, responsive and interactive feedback, convenience, timeliness, and provision of details. Telephone notification was preferred, followed by regular mail. Electronic notification was perceived as uncomfortable because it was not secure. While 65% preferred being notified by a provider, participants acknowledge that this may be impractical; thus, they wanted to be notified by someone knowledgeable enough to answer questions. Participants do not normally discuss their preferences for test result notification with their providers.
Conclusion: Privacy, responsive and interactive feedback, convenience, and timeliness with detailed information may be critical for patient satisfaction and for improving patient safety, and are features that may be incorporated into emerging communication channels.