U.S. plan giving patients access to lab reports would change protocol in 13 states

    Pennsylvania is one of 13 states now requiring diagnostic labs to send medical test results directly to the doctor rather than the patient–but a proposal from the federal department of Health and Human Services could give patients direct access to their  test results.

    Ralph Schmeltz, the president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, is not in favor of such a change. He said patients should have a chance to speak with a health-care professional who can interpret test results.

    “Sometimes a laboratory value that’s normal may not be normal for that individual,” Schmeltz said. “Sometimes the news can be strikingly bad, and if all they see is the word ‘cancer’ they many not know how significant it is. Is this cancer curable? Treatable?”

    Better electronic records systems–and automatic alerts–will help, but Schmeltz said doctors and patients have to take responsibility too.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    “I don’t mind being reminded that I need to go find this result somewhere and be able to communicate it with the patient,” he said.

    State Rep. Marguerite Quinn of Bucks County said patients should get their results directly. She knows two people whose lives were changed because test results slipped through the cracks.

    “He lost his wife. She lost her husband. Findings in the test were that there was cancer at very early stages and it was the failure of communication of the test result” that resulted in death, Quinn said.

    Sending lab reports directly to patients could also encourage them to ask better questions, said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal