Patients and pathology tests - what do patients want to know?

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January 5, 2013

A recent study performed in the ACT last year has looked at Australian patients' understanding of their pathology tests. The two main things that the study examined were patients' understanding of why they were having the tests and whether they had been offered a copy of their results. Patients attending two blood collection centres in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory were surveyed when they arrived. Almost 90% of patients agreed to participate in the survey.

The main findings were that 90% of patients understood the reasons for tests but only 19% could name them, 86% reported that their doctor explained the reason for their tests and 89% reported they understood their doctor’s explanation. Doctors offered only 35% of patients a copy of test results. Doctors were more likely to offer a copy of results to patients who had regular blood tests compared to patients who had tests irregularly. Furthermore, more patients were offered a copy of the results when they knew the specialist who ordered the test compared to those who knew the GP ordering the test.

Thirty-six percent of patients would seek information from the people working at blood collection centres and a quarter of patients would prefer that there was more information about blood tests available at the blood collection centres.

These results confirm some findings from surveys and focus groups carried out with Australian Lab Tests Online (LTO-AU) users. People are generally interested in why they are having pathology tests and want information about them. However we found marked differences in doctor’s attitudes to their patients being given copies of their test results. Younger doctors and hospital-based doctors were much more likely to offer copies of pathology results to their patients than older GPs. As we reported in October last year American patients having pathology tests may be given automatic access to all their test results through the testing laboratory databases. We said at the time: Currently there are no plans in Australia for this kind of direct on-line access by people to their laboratory results but as the e-health agenda is progressively rolled out in Australia, it is quite possible that consumers may demand this kind of access in the future.

The final findings are also relevant to us here at LabTests Online. Over a third of patients wanted to ask at the pathology collection centre for information about their tests and another quarter wanted more information available at the collection centre. This is a problematic matter for pathology providers. Pathology specimen collectors are experts in their field. They are not doctors however, and they do not know the patient’s medical history. Laboratories generally do not want collectors to speculate about why tests might be being done in case they give the patient misinformation. Pathology collectors interviewed in a focus group by LTO-AU all said that they regarded Lab Tests Online as an excellent way out of this situation as they could refer patients to the LTO-AU website for further information.

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.

Patients and tests – a study into patient understanding of blood tests ordered by their doctor. Australian Family Physician Vol. 41, No. 4, April 2012