Study: Many Patients Struggle To Understand Electronic Lab Results

August 21, 2014 in News

Stage 2 of the meaningful use incentive program aims to increase patients’ use of online portals to access their personal health information, but a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research finds that many patients struggle to understand their electronic lab test results, EHR Intelligence reports.

Under the 2009 economic stimulus package, health care providers who demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health records can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare incentive payments (Bresnick, EHR Intelligence, 8/21).

Study Details

For the study, researchers from the University of Michigan administered an online test to 1,817 adults ages 40 to 70, who were asked to respond as if they had Type 2 diabetes.

Participants were shown test results for hemoglobin A1c levels, which are used to measure blood sugar control, in addition to other blood test results. The test results were shown in a format similar to the way they are displayed in some EHR systems’ patient portals.

Participants also took tests to measure their:

  • Numeracy skills; and
  • Health literacy (Brian Zikmund-Fisher et al., JMIR, August 2014).

Study Findings

The researchers found that:

  • 77% of participants with higher numeracy skills and health literary were able to identify hemoglobin A1c levels outside of the standard range; and
  • 38% of participants with lower numeracy skills and health literacy were able to identify hemoglobin A1c levels outside of the standard range (EHR Intelligence, 8/21).

In addition, participants with higher numeracy and health literacy scores were more likely to consider how high the test result levels were when deciding whether to call a physician (University of Michigan release, 8/20).

Study co-author Brian Zikmund-Fisher said, “We can spend all the money we want making sure that patients have access to their test results, but it won’t matter if they don’t know what to do with them.” He recommended designing ways to present test results that are more intuitive for patients, which he said could help improve health outcomes (EHR Intelligence, 8/21).

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