(Reuters Health)—Of all the ways for patients to receive their medical test results, one option—password-protected websites—appears to be preferred much of the time, a study suggests.
U.S. researchers surveyed about 400 adults and found they were generally comfortable with web portals regardless of how sensitive the test results might be.
This was among the most popular options for getting results from routine cholesterol screenings, and the most preferred method for outcomes from tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and genetic abnormalities.
Even though doctors often call or email patients with test results, the study findings suggest that this isn’t necessarily what patients want, said senior author Dr. Daniel Merenstein of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“This study makes clear that the majority of people prefer something different than what we’ve been doing,” Merenstein said.
“With highly sensitive results such as genetic tests results or tests for STIs, patients may not trust a text message or an email or voicemail to remain private if somebody else happens to see their phone,” Merenstein added. “Password-protected websites offer them some additional security and also the convenience to retrieve the results whenever they want.”
To understand patient preferences for getting test results, Merenstein and colleagues created a survey they distributed in paper form around the Georgetown campus and online, via Facebook and email sharing of the link.
The survey asked about seven options for receiving test results, other than face to face with a clinician: a password-protected patient web portal, personal voicemail, personal email, letter, home phone voicemail, fax and text message.
For STI results, the majority—51%—preferred secure patient portals. This method was also the most popular choice for genetic test results, preferred by 46%.
For less sensitive results like cholesterol screenings, there were four options that at least half of patients would be comfortable using: letter, voicemail on their personal phone, email or password-protected website.
Limitations of the study include its use of hypothetical situations in a survey, the authors acknowledge in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. The survey distribution method also didn’t allow researchers to gauge a response rate.
Even so, the results may help improve how doctors communicate with patients, the authors argue.
This may be particularly true for younger patients who are used to doing many other tasks, such as banking, online, said Mechelle Sanders, a researcher at the University of Rochester who wasn’t involved in the study.