Background: Appropriate and timely communication of test results is an important element of high-quality health care. Patients' preferences regarding and satisfaction with test result notification methods in a primary care practice were evaluated.
Methods: Some 1,458 consecutive patients were surveyed for whom routine blood tests were performed in the primary care internal medicine division at the Mayo Clinic Rochester (Minnesota) between January and March 2006.
Results: Among 888 respondents, test result notification occurred by telephone call (43%), return visit (35%), letter (3%), e-mail (0.1%), or a combination of methods (19%). Most (60%) telephone calls were handled by nurses. Patient preferences for notification method were telephone call (55%), return visit (20%), letter (19%), e-mail (5%), and automated answering mechanism (1%). Among patients reporting preference for telephone call, 67% wanted a call from a physician or nurse practitioner. Overall, 44% of patients received results by their preferred method; patients who did not were more likely to be dissatisfied with the communication method than those who did (10% vs. 5%, p = 0.01). A majority of patients were at least somewhat anxious to learn their test results, and patients greatly valued timeliness in test-result notification.
Discussion: The results describe primary care patients preferences for communication from their providers. Disparities exist between current practice and patient preferences in this important care delivery process. A telephone call from a physician or nurse practitioner was used to deliver test results for fewer than half of the patients who preferred to receive their results by this method. Future work should explore reimbursement of patient-preferred options and assess ways to improve resource-conscious test result communication methods.