Research Finds Patients, Physicians Differ in Opinions on Immediate Access to Medical Results

Approximately 63% of clinicians surveyed agree that immediately releasing electronic records is more confusing than helpful, study results show.

Although patients and physicians prioritize information transparency, a 21st Century controversial, according to the results of a survey of patients and physicians.

The results, which were published in The American Journal of Surgery, show that of the physicians surveyed, nearly 63% agreed that immediately released results would be more confusing than helpful for patients, whereas approximately 16% of patients agreed.

"I think for clinicians, the concern has been that it's going to cause stress to patients getting these really complex reports that are not written at a level that's easy for non-medical professionals to understand," Laura Leonard, MD, the chief resident of quality and safety for the University of Colorado Department of Surgery at UCHealth, said in a statement.

The 21st Century Cures Act, which became law in 2016, includes a requirement that went into effect in 2021 requiring health care institutions to release all electronic health information (EHI) to patients immediately. Investigators designed a voluntary cross-sectional survey to administer via email to physicians at UCHealth in October 2020. Physicians who regularly worked with oncology individuals were invited to participate.

A corresponding survey was administered to patients recruited from breast cancer and pancreatic cancer multi-disciplinary clinics and breast radiology patient lists. Individuals were specifically selected to represent individuals who have had significant experience with testing as well as reviewing test results.

The survey results show that about 90% of patients and 81% of physicians agreed that providing patients with access to their health information is necessary in developing high-quality care.

However, physicians were more likely to disagree that patients are comfortable reviewing blood work results, pathology reports, and radiology results on their own.

The results also show that about 75% of patients said that their providers should contact them within 24 hours of the release of abnormal results, whereas about 9% of physicians agreed with that timeframe.

When the transition to the immediate release of EHI was announced, many providers expressed concern about the impact it would have on patients, as well as how they could adjust their workflows so that they could call or message patients right away, Leonard said. The access and transparency benefits empower patients in their health care, Leonard said.

However, an area of concern for physicians is how to help patients navigate the complex data and medical terminology generally found in lab and test results.

The survey also included sections asking patients to define certain medical terms to get a baseline of their understanding and asking for their opinions about receiving results and their experience with online portals for medical records.

"One of the things that was interesting in the survey is how patients view their comfort with interpreting results compared with how providers view patients' comfort," Leonard said .

"In general, patients reported they felt more comfortable interpreting lab results, pathology results, and radiology results than providers felt patients were. So, how do we address that disconnect between what providers think patients can do and what patients think patients can do?" Leonard said.

Other areas for further research and resource development include addressing the digital divide and supporting patients with less or no access to devices to view their electronic records, as well as supporting patient populations with lower health literacy.

The survey results are significant in guiding physicians who are looking to give patients the best quality of care but also working to manage their expectations about when providers contact them about results, Leonard said.

Reference

Research finds patients and providers differ in opinions about immediate access to medical records. News release. January 21, 2022. Accessed January 27, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/01/220121124909.htm

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