The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws were recently changed to allow you direct access to your records, which means you can get your test results directly from the lab instead of having to wait for a follow-up visit with your doctor.
The new rules will make it easier and faster for you to get your test results, and more information may enable you to better participate in your own care. It will certainly put your mind at ease if you suspect a problem. For example, if you’re taking your thyroid medications as directed and you still have typical symptoms such as headaches and exhaustion, a quick trip to the lab will tell you whether your medication is working. With that information, you can decide whether to see your endocrinologist or visit your primary care doctor. Or maybe even try an antihistamine before you schedule any visit.
“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,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.
The waiting game
Have you ever sat by the phone, worrying about test results, waiting for a call that never came? The doctor would call if something was wrong, right? If he doesn’t call, you stress out, and you should. The Archives of Internal Medicine did a research study in 2009 and found that 1 in 14 people with negative test results were not informed by their doctors. So not hearing from your doctor may not mean positive test results. It may mean you were in the shower when the call came and you missed it…or an overworked staff member made a mistake.
If a nurse does call and tells you to come in next week because she can’t give you the test results on the phone, you stress out even more. Some doctors have expressed concerns about patients not being able to interpret test results on their own, but as long as you know how to read them (it’s easy), having your test results in hand gives you the answers you need….good or bad.
You’re still going to need to visit your doctor, but now you can understand your own health better, keep track of your results over months or years to monitor your progress, and carefully note any changes. Some conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes are highly susceptible to lifestyle changes. With detailed information at your fingertips, you can see what really works and make changes accordingly. You might even be empowered to try new things; dietary changes, an exercise program, or even relaxation therapy, and keep track of the results. Seeing concrete results on paper is a great incentive to keep doing the right thing.