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No Clear Media Preference for Getting Medical Test Results

No Clear Media Preference for Getting Medical Test Results

New healthcare initiatives target quality improvement strategies that enhance patient satisfaction and facilitate engagement between individuals and their health care team.

One emerging method is for providers to send common medical test results to patients via digital communication channels such as email, provider portals, or voice mail. A new study sought to determine which of these methods is most preferred?

The Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) survey finds that the largest portion of participants was comfortable receiving test results through password-protected websites or portals. (The survey did not include in-person communications.)

Results appear in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

The survey of 409 participants suggests that while password-protected web portals are highly preferred, participants don’t mind a variety of non in-person communication methods including email, texts, or voicemail for receiving results of common tests such as blood cholesterol levels.

Nevertheless, the context matters as participants prefer the results of sensitive tests to be accessible only via a password-protected patient portal/website. Results of this nature include non-HIV sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and genetic test results.

“Communication with patients may need to be on a case-by-case basis — every individual may have a personal preference, and there may be a way to indicate those preferences in the patient’s record. The goal of this study was to try to better understand these preferences, so we can improve doctor-patient communication,” said the study’s lead researcher, Jeannine LaRocque, Ph.D.

It is not uncommon for a physician to call or email a patient with results to common tests without any idea of which is preferred in different contexts, but “this study makes clear that the majority of people prefer something different than what we’ve been doing,” said the study’s senior researcher, Daniel Merenstein, M.D.

The survey tested the desirability of seven different methods of non-in-person communication in receiving three different kinds of tests: common tests such as blood cholesterol and colonoscopy results; non-HIV STIs; and genetic testing (predisposition to a disorder, carrier of an inherited gene linked to a disease and a carrier of a genetic disorder).

The seven methods of communications surveyed were a password-protected patient portal website, phone voicemail, personal email, letter, home voicemail, fax, and mobile phone text.

Researchers found that in all categories, patients were least comfortable receiving information via fax.

Half or more preferred receiving cholesterol or colonoscopy results in four methods: password protected patient portal websites, personal voicemail, personal email, or letter. The majority did not want to receive a home voicemail, mobile text message, or a fax.

For receiving results of STIs, only one method was preferred by the majority (51 percent) of participants: password-protected websites. No single method was preferred for genetic test results; the closest, at 46 percent, was also password-protected websites.

LaRocque, a genetic researcher, is interested in how sensitive information is transmitted to patients.

“With these highly sensitive medical results such as genetic test results, patients may not trust the privacy of methods such as personal voicemail or email, whereas password-protected websites provide an added level of security, which may be necessary as these tests become more prevalent in primary care practices,” she said.

But other studies have found that a minority of patients has signed up for available patient portals, and only half have actually activated their sites, the researchers say.

The researchers point out one potential bias in the study: Since the majority of completed surveys were administered online, those who participated may be innately more comfortable with electronic communication.

Source: Georgetown University/EurekAlert

No Clear Media Preference for Getting Medical Test Results

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). No Clear Media Preference for Getting Medical Test Results. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 Nov 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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