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"Patient engagement is essential to creating a healthcare system that delivers better health outcomes at lower costs,” said Jon Cohen, MD, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Quest Diagnostics.

And many agree – including HHS, CMS and CDC.

Earlier this month, in an effort to increase patient involvement in their care, the three government agencies announced patients will be able to access their lab results without having to go through or consult their medical provider.

It’s a move that many, like Cohen and those in the lab industry, are praising.

“HHS’s final rule means millions of Americans who previously could not access their laboratory and other health care data from clinical laboratory companies like Quest can now do so without first requiring the approval of their healthcare provider. That’s a huge win for patients who want to take responsibility for their healthcare and engage in a richer dialogue with their healthcare providers in the interest of making informed clinical decisions.”

And he’s not wrong.

We’ve talked often about finding ways for patients to become more involved and informed in their care – granting them greater access to information that is crucial to their ability to manage their health and make health-related decisions.

However, though widely considered a patient-centered move, we have to consider potential consequences.

While easier access to lab results is certainly more convenient, what will it mean for the majority of Americans who largely struggle with health literacy?


For example, consider a patient who accesses their lab results and finds out they are abnormal.

What does that mean?

How concerned should I be?

Am I largely at risk?

The answer could be yes or it could be no - but the patient’s anxiety has already escalated.

What about the patient who is simply looking into his or her cholesterol levels?

They get their lab results. Do they know there is such a thing as good and bad cholesterol?

Will they interpret a high number to be “high cholesterol” when it may very well fall into the appropriate range for someone of their age and health?

Even understanding blood pressure can be confusing.

How will patients react?

We can’t know for sure – but we can certainly anticipate confusion.

Additionally, what will this mean for providers?

As Jan Walker, RN stated in the New England Journal of Medicine:

“The knowledge that patients (and often their families) will have access to records affects the intent and sometimes the content of clinical documentation. Writing accurately about a suspicion of cancer, for instance, can be difficult for clinicians who don’t want to worry patients unnecessarily, and addressing character disorders or cognitive dysfunction in ways that are useful to patients, consulting providers, and others who use the records requires carefully considered words.

So how do we effectively move forward from this announcement?

There could be many possible answers.

Yet, it is clear providers will need to be even more thorough in their patient education and purposeful in setting patient expectations.

What are your thoughts about the announcement? Will it help or hinder? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.