How soon do you want to know the results when your doctor orders blood work? In all but 13 states, you can get them straight from the lab. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of them – until now.
The Obama administration announced a proposed new rule to give patients everywhere in the country direct access to medical test findings. It will likely take effect in the next few months. (To see the text of the rule, click here.)
Right now, if you want to see your lab results in Pennsylvania, you have to ask the doctor who ordered them. That’s usually fine, if your doctor contacts you quickly. But sometimes, there can be delays.
What’s more, research shows that some test results never make it back to the doctor who ordered them. In some instances, doctors get the results but fail to communicate abnormal findings. In others, lab reports don’t make it to other doctors who are seeing the same patient.
The Obama administration thinks that direct access to lab results will reduce the amount of such miscommunication. It will empower patients to take more control of their health and demand higher quality and greater responsiveness from their providers.
Some doctors disagree. They fear that some test results will be difficult to interpret without a doctor to explain them. Patients could misunderstand the meaning of lab values and miss warning signals that a trained clinician would spot.
So, is the Obama administration doing the right thing? It depends on where you see health care going.
Despite the claims of opponents, Obama’s approach to health care contains strong free-market elements. He wants patients to make more of their own decisions, whether through insurance exchanges that let them compare private plans or quality reports that let them compare doctors and hospitals. The key to permitting choice is providing information.
Patients can’t act as knowledgeable consumers if they don’t have knowledge. When customers are kept in the dark, they can’t ask the right questions and the market doesn’t do a very good job of encouraging high quality and low cost.
This is not to say that patients don’t still need expert advice. They would be foolish to cut their doctor out of the loop in reviewing lab results. But with direct access to information, they are better able to make sure that key findings are not lost or overlooked.
So, by making information more accessible, the Obama administration is promoting a market-based solution to improving health care quality. That should gain support from people of all ideological stripes.
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