Patients Now Able to Directly Access Their Lab Results

February 12, 2014
Lisa Schulmeister, MN, RN, ACNS-BC, OCN , FAAN

On February 3, 2014 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enacted a rule that will give patients direct access to their laboratory results.

Sounds like a good idea, but is it?

On February 3, 2014 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enacted a rule that will give patients direct access to their laboratory results. The rule will take effect 60 days after its official publication in the Federal Register (set for February 6th). In a press release, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated that the right to access personal health information is a cornerstone of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and that access to lab results will empower patients.

Patients or their designees will still be able to obtain laboratory reports from healthcare providers. The new rule adds the option of getting the information directly from the laboratory. The ruling will supersede laws in 13 states that prohibit such access. While most healthcare providers certainly support patient engagement and empowerment, there is concern that direct access to lab results may be confusing to patients who do not have knowledge of laboratory test result interpretation, and more importantly, lack knowledge of placing lab results in the context of a patient’s overall health history and medical condition. Something as simple as a blood glucose test result may be misinterpreted by a patient if it’s a non-fasting result, or elevated because of medications the patient is taking. Because laboratory results compare patients' numbers with the "normal" range, numbers outside that range, without a healthcare provider’s explanation, could unnecessarily cause concern, and abnormal test results have the potential for patients to implement inappropriate self-treatment. So while the intent of the rule is good, the unintended consequences cause concern and clinicians should encourage their patients to discuss their lab results with them. More information about the final rule is available on the Federal Register website at:

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/02/06/2014-02280/patients-access-to-test-reports-clia-program-and-hipaa-privacy-rule.