Patient Preferences for Test Result Notification

Samuel K. Shultz, Robert Wu, John J. Matelski, Xin Lu, Peter Cram

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: Patients are increasingly being given access to their test results, but little is known about how preferences vary with the test under consideration or the results of the test (normal or abnormal). Objective: This study was conducted to examine preferences for test result communication. Design, Setting, and Participants: We surveyed adults to explore their preferences for test result notification for three common diagnostic tests of varying “emotional impact” (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry [DXA], genital herpes, and cancer biopsy) when test results were 1) normal and 2) abnormal. We conducted our survey between June and August 2012 on the campus of an academic medical center. For each scenario, subjects were asked to rank seven methods that might be used to communicate test results (letter, unsecured email, secured email, text message, telephone call, secure Web portal, office visit) in order of acceptability. Main Outcome Measures: The main measures were the percentage of respondents who ranked a particular test result notification method favorably and the percentage who ranked it as unacceptable. Results: When test results were normal, subjects’ notification preferences were generally similar for DXA, herpes and cancer biopsy, with telephone and letter ranked most favorably for all three tests. Conversely, text message and unsecured email were viewed as unacceptable notification methods for normal results by 45.0–55.0 % of subjects across all three tests. When test results were abnormal, office visits became more popular. A higher proportion of subjects ranked office visits as their most preferred notification method for our test with high “emotional impact” (cancer biopsy) (38.4 %) as compared to DXA (28.2 %) and herpes (27.9 %) (P = 0.02). For most test scenarios, younger subjects appeared to rank electronic communication modalities (secure email or Web portal) higher than older subjects, though this difference did not reach statistical significance (P = 0.29). Conclusions: Preferences for test result notification can differ substantially depending upon the test under consideration and results of the test. Providers and health care systems should consider these factors when deciding how to communicate results to patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1651-1656
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • patient preferences
  • test results notification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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