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Patients Will Get Direct Access to Their Lab Reports

Update Date: Feb 04, 2014 10:19 AM EST

According to a new ruling announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), patients no longer have to ask their doctors for their laboratory results. The new federal rule, which was first proposed in 2011, will give patients direct access to their laboratory reports if they ask for them.

"Information like lab results can empower patients to track their health progress, make decisions with their health-care professionals and adhere to important treatment plans," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The HHS believes that this new ruling could improve how patients make medical decisions. By giving them access to their own laboratory results, patients have more knowledge about their own health. The HHS has noted that some previous studies had revealed that "physician practices failed to inform patients of abnormal test results about seven percent of the time, resulting in a substantial number of patients not being informed by their providers of clinically significant tests results," according to the Washington Post. This new ruling would hopefully provide more information to the patients. Direct access to test results could also make patients feel more involved, which might improve the rapport they have with their doctors.

"I think more physicians are comfortable with having their patients access this information - the conversations between patients and doctors will be more substantive," Dr. Jon Cohen, the senior vice president and chief medical officer at Quest Diagnostics stated. Cohen believes that this new ruling could reduce medical errors and duplicate tests.

This new rule is an amendment to the privacy rules that were created under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA). These laws had mandated patients to contact their physicians for their test results.

Not only does the new ruling void these two federal laws, it also overrides individual state laws. According to the HHS, seven states and the District of Columbia had already allowed patients direct access to their own tests results. However, 13 states had prohibited it, seven states only allowed it if their health-care provider approved and 23 states had no policy on it. Now, all states will have to give direct access to the patients.

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