While it's becoming commonplace for patients to see the results of lab work electronically, a new University of Michigan study suggests that many people may not be able to understand what those numbers mean.
Research conducted by a team at the U-M schools of Public Health and Medicine found that people with low comprehension of numerical concepts—or numeracy—and low literacy skills were less than half as likely to understand whether a result was inside or outside the reference ranges. They also were less able to use the data to decide whether or not to call their doctor.
As more medical professionals and facilities have adopted electronic health record keeping, increasing numbers of patients can see their test results outside of a doctor's visit. One goal of giving patients access to the data is to help them become partners in managing their own care, said Brian Zikmund-Fisher, associate professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health.
"We can spend all the money we want making sure that patients have access to their test results, but it won't matter if they don't know what to do with them," he said. "The problem is, many people can't imagine that giving someone an accurate number isn't enough, even if it is in complex format."