Background: Patients are increasingly using the Internet to communicate with health care providers and access general and personal health information. Missed test results have been identified as a critical safety issue with studies showing up to 75% of tests for emergency department (ED) patients not being followed-up. One strategy that could reduce the likelihood of important results being missed is for ED patients to have direct access to their test results. This could be achieved electronically using a patient portal tied to the hospital's electronic medical record or accessed from the relevant laboratory information system. Patients have expressed interest in accessing test results directly, but there have been no reported studies on emergency physicians' opinions.
Objective: The aim was to explore emergency physicians' current practices of test result notification and attitudes to direct patient notification of clinically significant abnormal and normal test results.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was self-administered by senior emergency physicians (site A: n=50; site B: n=39) at 2 large public metropolitan teaching hospitals in Australia. Outcome measures included current practices for notification of results (timing, methods, and responsibilities) and concerns with direct notification.
Results: The response rate was 69% (61/89). More than half of the emergency physicians (54%, 33/61) were uncomfortable with patients receiving direct notification of abnormal test results. A similar proportion (57%, 35/61) was comfortable with direct notification of normal test results. Physicians were more likely to agree with direct notification of normal test results if they believed it would reduce their workload (OR 5.72, 95% CI 1.14-39.76). Main concerns were that patients could be anxious (85%, 52/61), confused (92%, 56/61), and lacking in the necessary expertise to interpret their results (90%, 55/61).
Conclusions: Although patients' direct access to test results could serve as a safety net reducing the likelihood of abnormal results being missed, emergency physicians' concerns need further exploration: which results are suitable and the timing and method of direct release to patients. Methods of access, including secure Web-based patient portals with drill-down facilities providing test descriptions and result interpretations, or laboratories sending results directly to patients, need evaluation to ensure patient safety is not compromised and the processes fit with ED clinician and laboratory work practices and patient needs.
Keywords: Internet; diagnostic tests; electronic health records; emergency care; patient empowerment; patient safety; radiology.