While specific processes and challenges are different for every healthcare organization, there are four common areas where you can improve test results delivery to your patients:
This is an area that can be difficult to automate or improve with technology, depending on various factors such as the specialty, technology and current processes implemented in the practice. The first step to improving the time spent on interpreting lab results is process analysis. How are you receiving the results? Through EMR? By fax? By mail? The process or technology used to receive results will dictate how easily results can be organized for interpretation.
The second step is to segment or categorize the results. This could be by lab type or level of interpretation. Here’s an example of how to classify the results and define which results must be interpreted by the doctor:
Level 1: Requires no interpretation by doctor (normal/abnormal)
Level 2: Lab interpretation is sufficient
Level 3: Requires doctor’s interpretation
This amount will vary by specialty and is also dependent upon the doctor’s level of risk aversion. In general, Level 1 labs require no interpretation, and the results indicated by the lab are always used. Typically, these are results that are black or white. Normal or abnormal. In the case of OB-GYN, an example could be Pap tests, and the practice could significantly decrease the time for interpretation by automating them directly to the communication process. Level 2 labs are results where lab interpretation is sufficient but would have to be approved by the provider. Level 3 labs require the doctor’s interpretation. The basic concept is that if the labs are organized then this opens the door to using technology that will reduce the doctor’s time.
The top challenges regarding staff time relate to the time required to contact patients and patients contacting the office for lab results. This is an area where technology can make an immediate impact on the practice. Research your alternatives for lab results communication, but also understand what options are compliant. Lab results are private information, and you need to be sure you are protecting each patient’s privacy. Many practices have reported that they employ full-time staff to contact patients regarding lab results, and they indicated that if the patient does not answer, the results are left on the patient’s answering machine or voicemail. This is a clear HIPAA violation and can place your practice at risk.
It is also important to understand how you can leverage notification methods for lab delivery as well. Phone, text messages and email can be used to let a patient know a result is ready, which opens the door for secure alternatives to results delivery and automated communication opportunities in the practice.
Not all practices mail their lab results, but for those that do, this can be a great opportunity for cost savings. A primary challenge with mailing is the cost, which includes envelopes, paper to print the results, stamps and the labor required to stuff envelopes and mail them. There are also problems with “how do we know the patient received the results?” and “what is being mailed to the patient?” In many cases, practices will mail the raw results to the patient which are not clear and create confusion.
The cost of an automated solution is an easy win since the cost of each assigned message to a patient is far less than mailed communication.
Patient Perception and Convenience
The top problems relating to patient perception are incorrect timeframes given to patients regarding when results will be ready and how patients will get their results. In most cases, this can be solved through better communication with the patient and setting the correct expectations.
The first step simply involves process analysis. Determine the average timeframes for test results, and pad the average timeframes to allow for communication. Patients often call the practice the day you say a result will be in, and there are frequent delays in results. Also, be sure you are clear on what is being delivered to the patient. As mentioned previously, many practices deliver raw results which create confusion for the patient and increase calls into the practice. Finally, it is important to understand how technology can improve this process. Leading automated test results delivery systems allow patients to access their results 24/7 via phone or the Internet. They can also be notified when a message has been assigned, providing another avenue for stronger patient communication.