Encourage lab testing to confront conditions early

February 1, 2012

According to experts, improving accessibility to laboratory tests and results improves patient engagement in their health and could have significant cost saving implications for managed care.

NATIONAL REPORTS-Improving accessibility to laboratory tests and results improves patient engagement in their health and could have significant cost saving implications for managed care, according to experts.

Quest Diagnostics recently assessed the role of laboratory testing in employer-sponsored wellness programs in a study of 52,000 participants from 15 employers.

According to the results, 89% of the participants who were identified with chronic kidney disease after simple blood work were unaware they had the condition before the blood test was given. In addition, 59% of those who had high cholesterol were unaware of the condition, and 28% of people with diabetes weren't aware they had the chronic disease before the test.

"In the case of these medical conditions, particularly at the stage where we are most commonly identifying them, there aren't those overt signs or symptoms to tell someone that they have high lipids or diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, or for that matter hypertension," he says. "The only way to test for these is through a laboratory test or measuring blood pressure."

ONLINE AND ON TIME

HealthPartners Medical Group, a not-for-profit organization, has also tried to encourage patient engagement by improving access to laboratory testing results. Beth Averbeck, MD, associate medical director of primary care for the medical group, says HealthPartners offers its patients online lab test results. More than 90% of the medical group's labs are released to patients online within four hours of being drawn in a clinic.

"It helps engage patients in their self management, so that they can see how the changes they might make in their health might be affecting some of the results, and then for us it's a safety net as well," she says. "We have a well-defined process for notifying patients of all results, and this is one of the safety net features."

According to Dr. Averbeck, about 40% of their patients have chosen to take advantage of the option to view the results through an online portal the group has set up through its EHR.

"One of our most popular features is the ability for people to see their lab tests online," she says.

Dr. Averbeck says offering the results online promotes patient engagement but also can help improve efficiency.

"Not only does that help coordinate care for that patient, it avoids duplication of tests," she says. "If someone knows that they've had a test and they might go see a specialist maybe outside of our medical group, even in another state, they can easily pull up their previous results so that they can share the results they've had as opposed to getting the same test done say two weeks after they've had the last test."