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Patient Preferences for and Satisfaction with Methods of Communicating Test Results in a Primary Care Practice

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Background: Appropriate and timely communication of test results is an important element of high-quality health care. Patients' preferences regarding and satisfaction with test result notification methods in a primary care practice were evaluated.

Methods: Some 1,458 consecutive patients were surveyed for whom routine blood tests were performed in the primary care internal medicine division at the Mayo Clinic Rochester (Minnesota) between January and March 2006.

Results: Among 888 respondents, test result notification occurred by telephone call (43%), return visit (35%), letter (3%), e-mail (0.1%), or a combination of methods (19%). Most (60%) telephone calls were handled by nurses. Patient preferences for notification method were telephone call (55%), return visit (20%), letter (19%), e-mail (5%), and automated answering mechanism (1%). Among patients reporting preference for telephone call, 67% wanted a call from a physician or nurse practitioner. Overall, 44% of patients received results by their preferred method; patients who did not were more likely to be dissatisfied with the communication method than those who did (10% vs. 5%, p = 0.01). A majority of patients were at least somewhat anxious to learn their test results, and patients greatly valued timeliness in test-result notification.

Discussion: The results describe primary care patients' preferences for communication from their providers. Disparities exist between current practice and patient preferences in this important care delivery process. A telephone call from a physician or nurse practitioner was used to deliver test results for fewer than half of the patients who preferred to receive their results by this method. Future work should explore reimbursement of patient-preferred options and assess ways to improve resource-conscious test result communication methods.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-10-01

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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