Patients to get better access to test results

Patients who want direct access to their medical test results, rather than waiting to hear about them from their doctor, will benefit from a new measure signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The law, which takes effect Oct. 1, clarifies that patients can tell a doctor ordering medical tests that they want to receive their results directly. The doctor would then convey that information to the testing laboratory, which would send the results both to the doctor and the patient.

"It appears to be a good thing, both for patients and providers," said Patty Charvat, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Hospital Association.

State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee, said that during hearings at the Capitol the bill met with virtually no opposition from groups representing physicians, medical laboratories or hospitals.

"It's empowering for patients," she said.

The law specifies that if patients routinely have certain medical tests, such as regularly scheduled blood tests for a chronic condition such as diabetes, they have to tell the doctor only once that they want to receive those results directly, not every time they have the test.

The law also includes a provision allowing physicians to withhold information they deem inappropriate for direct access, until the doctor can meet with the patient to discuss the results. Ritter said physicians groups strongly supported the provision for cases when results might be misinterpreted, or when a life-threatening illness is involved and the results might cause a patient to make major decisions hastily.

Charvat of the hospital association said the intent of the new law fits in well both with the implementation of electronic medical records by hospitals and private doctors' offices, and a push by the federal government for health care providers to create "patient portals" where patients can easily access their own information electronically. The portals are part of federal "meaningful use" requirements for electronic medical records that providers have to meet to be eligible for financial incentives.

"Everybody's moving towards patients having more access to their own information," she said, adding that it also seems to be something patients want.

"People are more involved in their own health care, and want access to more information," she said.

Jan Dombek, registered health information administrator and director of health information management at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, said about 20 to 25 patients a day come to the main hospital requesting some portion of their medical records. Most often, patients want lab reports and emergency room documents in preparation for an appointment with a specialist, she said. After reviewing the new law, she expects it will have little impact on the way L&M fulfills those requests.

She agreed with Charvat of the hospital association that the new law fits in with an overarching theme throughout health care of increasing the amount of information patients can obtain easily, and by doing so enabling patients to be more involved in their own health care.

"The goal is giving patients more access to this information, and hopefully that empowers patients," she said.

j.benson@theday.com

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