Written notification of test results: meanings, comprehension and implication on patients' health behavior

Patient Educ Couns. 2009 Sep;76(3):341-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2009.07.021. Epub 2009 Aug 5.


Objective: Mailing test results are frequently used to provide patients with information about their medical condition and enhancing their participation in subsequent management. This study explores patients' experiences of the written notification process and its implications.

Methods: Telephone interviews were conducted with 128 patients who had undergone endoscopic examinations in two gastroenterology clinics after the received of their mailed biopsies results. The interviews (open and closed questions) focused on patients' perceptions and emotions while waiting, and after reading the reports.

Results: The findings are divided to emotions experienced, comprehension and behavioral implications. The reports arrived 6-33 days later than promised. Many patients were dissatisfied but most did nothing to hasten the process. Over half of them were unable to understand the information in the letters and the future steps needed to be taken. Explanatory covering letters, sent by the hospital clinic, enhanced comprehension and diminished confusion.

Conclusions: Mailed biopsy reports frequently failed to enhance patient understanding and participation in decisions. Incomprehensibility of written information, and unmet expectations, evoked negative emotional responses.

Practice implications: Improving readability with simple, non-technical information; and verification of understanding and fulfillment of recommendations using a follow-up call are critical for accomplishing the goals of mailed biopsy reports.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques
  • Cognition
  • Communication
  • Comprehension*
  • Disease Notification / methods*
  • Educational Status*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Perception*
  • Time Factors