Patients may soon be universally able to view their lab results thanks to a new rule proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services. This means patients may access without permission or release by their providers. This is a victory toward patient empowerment and a step in the right direction.
Classically patients do not see their lab results. The busy primary doctors are often left with nothing more than a “no news is good news” approach to reviewing labs with patients. Or they stamp the lab report “normal” as long as they do not fall outside of the gigantic reference ranges the labs have set. So patients do not get to see how “normal” they are or how things have trended in the past. This means that patients who are not contacted are left to assume things are “fine.” The data shows that 20% of labs are lost and not reviewed by physicians and so patients sit at home believing things to be okay when that may be far from the truth.
The blame should not be placed fully on physicians. Often, they are overburdened by having to maintain a busy day of patient visits in order to generate revenue for the practice and keep the doors open. They still need to spend a significant part of their day doing things that do not pay the bills or bring in revenue to pay their staff: reviewing patient messages and questions, reviewing consult notes on their patients, and the expectation to review every lab, test and procedure on their patients. With this much on their plates, things are bound to be overlooked or just flat missed. This is a system issue, not a physician issue. A healthcare system that only rewards patient visits means two things happen with labs: either you meet face to face with your doctor, you get the “everything looks fine” from their staff, or you just get flat ignored.
Enter the patient, who is starting to understand the vital role they must play in their health. It’s up to them to navigate their path. Now, they’re helping to play a role in determining which therapies or lifestyle roads are taken, interacting with their provider to maintain a regular relationship, staying on top of regular monitoring and screening and now controlling their data to ensure things are on track.
There are few systems and practices that are supporting the enabled and empowered patient well. More and more physicians are realizing that the empowered patient is actually a relief for their practice and not a burden. Their questions are more focused and appropriate, they stay on top of their labs and screening so you don’t have to, and generally they are making better lifestyle choices to increase the health of themselves and subsequently your practice. It’s time to truly embrace them and provide them with tools to connect with you and attract more of them.
Jeffrey Gladd is a family physician specializing in integrative medicine at GladdMD Integrative Medicine.
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