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“But What Does It Mean for Me?” Primary Care Patients' Communication Preferences for Test Results Notification

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Background: The best ways to communicate test results in primary care to achieve patient satisfaction and assist patients to incorporate results into their personal health decision making are unknown. A study was conducted to determine the factors that patients believe are important in achieving those goals.

Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 12 adults, at least half with a chronic disease requiring regular testing, who shared experiences about receiving test results from physicians' offices and how they used them in their health decision making. In addition, “think aloud” interviewing techniques were used to assess participants' satisfaction and stated understanding with six different formats for receiving a hypothetical test result (a mildly elevated lipid profile). The interviews were analyzed using the editing technique to determine important factors in test results notification.

Findings: Three themes were found to be important in satisfaction with and stated understanding and use of test results: (1) the information shared (test result, clinician interpretation and guidance), (2) significance of the results (testing purpose, abnormal or normal result) and (3) personal preferences for communication (timeliness, interpersonal connection, and hard copy). Participants' stated understanding was highest, among several potential formats, for actual values with desired/normal values, a low-literacy description of the test's purpose, and a simple graph.

Conclusions: A results notification algorithm includes (1) communication elements (the purpose of the test, the actual results with desired values, clinician guidance, and a graphical representation) and (2) appropriate choice of notification technique (phone/visit for diagnostic tests and all significantly abnormal results and mail/e-mail/Web for all others).

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-04-01

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