- When it comes to delivery of medical test results, patients are comfortable enough with healthcare interoperability to prefer password-protected websites or portals over more traditional means of notification such as letters, voice mail and email. However there’s some variability in preference depending on the nature of the test, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) and published Oct. 31 in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.
The survey of 409 participants tested the desirability of seven different methods on non-in-person communication in receiving three different kinds of tests: common tests such as blood and cholesterol or colonoscopy results; non-HIV sexually transmitted infections (STIs); and genetic testing for predisposition to a disorder, carrier of an inherited gene linked to a disease, or carrier of a genetic disorder.
The methods of communication surveyed were:
- password-protected patient portal or website
- personal voicemail
- home voicemail
- personal email
- text message
Overall, the survey responses indicate that while password-protected portals are highly preferred, patients don’t mind a variety of non-in-person communication methods including email, text or voicemail for receiving results of common tests. But when things get more sensitive, such as with results for non-HIV STIs and genetic testing, a password-protected portal or site is highly preferred.
Half or more preferred receiving common test results via portal/website, personal voicemail, personal email or letter. The majority did not want to receive a home voicemail, text message or fax.
In regard to results of STI tests, only one method was preferred by a majority (51 percent) of respondents — password-protected portal or site. No single method was preferred for genetic test results; the closest (46 percent) was also a password-protected portal or site.
In all test categories, patients were least comfortable receiving results via fax.
"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, PhD, assistant professor of human science in the School of Nursing & Health Studies at GUMC.
While it’s fairly common for a physician to call or email a patient with results of common tests, that practice doesn’t take into consideration the patient’s preference for communication in different contexts. “This study makes clear that the majority of people prefer something different than what we’ve been doing,” added the study’s senior researcher, Daniel Merenstein, MD, director of research programs in GUMC’s Department of Family Medicine.
LaRocque, whose research focuses on genetics and molecular biology, expects more frequent transmission of sensitive information in the future. “With medical results such as genetic tests, 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 noted.
The GUMC researchers pointed out that other studies have found that only a minority of patients has signed up for available portals, and only half have actually activated their sites.
The study team also commented that because most of the completed GUMC surveys were administered online, participants may have been innately more comfortable with electronic communication.