Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Patient Access to Medical Information

A group of health-related federal agencies have proposed a new regulation which would permit clinical laboratories to release test-results to patients who request them. (Currently 39 states either have no state law explicitly permitting such release to patients, or have laws mandating release only to physicians or other healthcare providers.) The current JAMA has a thoughtful analysis of some the questions raised by the new rule. The regulation is supposed to decrease physician workload, reduce the number of patients who never receive test results, and improve follow-up rates. But there are a lot of questions: will patients understand their test-results? will they experience needless anxiety over results that are abnormal but inconsequential? is it useful for patients to receive test results on their own, without medical interpretation or counseling?

Meantime, in the UK, Her Majesty's Treasury has announced in its Autumn Statement (p. 40) that all NHS patients will have online access to their own medical records by the end of this parliament (that is, by 2015). This raises a lot of questions about security and privacy, of course; but also about whether patients may be pressured into supplying their records to third parties.

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