Find out first or wait for the doctor? The debate over getting results on medical apps

It’s become a routine part of going to the doctor. You get blood work or a test and in a few days, the results are posted in your online patient portal, oftentimes before you hear from your doctor. And this immediate access is causing a big debate in the country, with some saying it does more harm than good.

So, Channel 11 Morning News Anchor Katherine Amenta looked into why it’s done and what options you have.

Jenelle Caporali remembers the day in 2018 when she found out her daughter, Nora, had leukemia. A doctor broke the news to her in the ER. But, she knows it doesn’t always work like that and that every day, patients are learning their blood work, mammogram results and pathology reports in their patient portal.

“The diagnosis itself is earth-shattering, so I can’t imagine having gotten that news via an app,” said Caporali.

The debate goes back to 2016, when Congress was looking to improve patient access to information. They instructed the “Department of Health and Human Services” to develop a regulation. So, in 2021, HHS mandated that healthcare providers give patients access to all health information “without delay”.

“I think the overall intent is very good on what the law wants,” said Dr. Robert Bart, Chief Medical Information Officer at UPMC.

I sat down with Dr. Bart who says, in his experience, many of his patients want their results as soon as possible and doctors need to prepare patients ahead of time.

“To make sure that when a patient or family leaves your office, you’ve told them, ‘This is would you could expect from the results’,” said Dr. Bart.

Still, the “American Medical Association” says, “emotional and mental harm” is being done.  Their recent survey found *less than half* of patients want their results immediately.

HHS did create the “Preventing Harm Exception”. It allows doctors to hold back a life-altering diagnosis, but the AMA says the rule is too vague. Dr. Bart thinks one improvement is to broaden the definition of the term “immediately”.

“They (results) would come in all hours, early, the middle of the night, late evening; it’s not always during the business hours.,” said Caporali.

Dr. Bart says, before 2021, UPMC would hold those results until the next morning, so patients can call their doctor. But, now, results have to go out right away and he hopes patients resist the urge to “google” what medical terms mean.

“I get the options are challenging,” said Dr. Bart. “But, if you can hold off and then talk to your office or the clinician that following day, that would be the best practice.”

Dr. Bart did offer two other options. You can reach out to the on-call doctor, but realize that doctor may be busy with an emergency. And, you “can” tell the ordering clinician “before the test,” that you do not want results posted until you hear from your doctor.

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