Health Front: The Deregulation of Lab Results

By DR. JERRY DeCAPUA, TRT Contributing Writer

A new federal rule now allows patients to obtain their test results from the laboratory that produced them, without approval from the doctor’s office that ordered them. The rule to reduce regulations on who controls test results was just announced by the Obama administration. The rule is an effort by the administration to give Americans broader control over their healthcare. It supersedes state law and will have particular significance in 13 states that prohibit labs from releasing test results to patients directly.

Consumer groups applaud the deregulation, which may empower patients and reduce mistakes. The Obama deregulation most likely results from a 2009 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine which found that providers failed to notify patients of abnormal test results seven percent of the time. But other estimates put that rate even higher.

The American Medical Association does not appear to want to go on record denouncing the new deregulation.

The AMA and the American Academy of Family Physicians politely state that they “have concerns that allowing patients to get their test results without a doctor’s help in understanding them could do more harm than good.”

For example, an x-ray or MRI report might mention a disc bulge, but only a doctor would be able to see and understand how significant the condition on the film really is. Another example, a typical blood test for a person may indicate 27 different criteria. A typical lab result will show each result, along with what is considered in the normal range. Only a doctor would be able to tell whether the abnormal result, probably displayed in red, is something to be concerned about. The average person could not Google the results of the test and come up with a reliable diagnosis or prognosis without the integration of a variety of other factors. The misinterpretation of hard data can be harmful.

This view “is outdated and paternalistic,” contrarily notes Alice Leiter, policy counsel at the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, which advocates for a more open exchange of information. “Individuals are grown-ups and smart and should have the ability to get that information in the way that they want.”

Physicians’ groups do not oppose the new deregulation, although they have serious doubts about the intelligent use of the newly released lab data to the common person. On the other hand, taking the lab data for a second opinion with another physician or specialist could be considered intelligent.

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services said the new rule will give patients another way to get information about lab-test results besides relying on their doctors. “Information like lab results can empower patients to track their health progress, make decisions with their health care provider, and adhere to important treatment plans,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

• 8.7 million pounds of meat products have been recalled by a California Company that processed “diseased and unsound animals” according to the USDA. The meat from Rancho Feeding Corp. of Petaluma, California, was processed without proper inspections and was considered unfit for human consumption. The recall listed beef carcasses and boxes with the established number “EST.527” in the USDA inspection marks.

• Many women continue to have hot flashes for years after menopause, a new study finds. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine looked at 255 older women and found that 80 percent of them had moderate to severe hot flashes during menopause, 17 percent had mild hot flashes and 3 percent had none. They found that moderate-to-severe hot flashes continued for an average of nearly five years after menopause. And of those moderate -to-severe women, a third of those had hot flashes for 10 years or more after menopause. Obese women had the most severe hot flashes, while those women who had higher than a high school education had a lower risk of hot flashes.

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February 20th, 2014

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