Originally Published in ADVANCE for Administrators of the Laboratory Lab Quality Advisor Blog on March 2, 2015

We live in an age of increasing individualism facilitated by technology that allows immediate access to information; in the format, the setting, and the time of our own choosing. This change is occurring as rapidly as we can adapt to it; accompanied by social media-facilitated feedback, commentary and communication. These are new manifestations of individual empowerment. All phases of our society have been impacted and are adapting, willingly or otherwise, to this new world. The healthcare profession, including laboratory medicine, is no exception.

We, as laboratory professionals are at the nexus of these changes: not only in terms of information technology as discussed above; but in terms of advances in molecular diagnostics that is facilitating the development of personalized (i.e. individualized) medicine. The latter, through the decoding of the human genome, and genetic mapping, allows the tailoring of medical treatment to the individual characteristics of each patient, through all stages of care, from prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and follow up. The result is a leveraging of both information and biomedical technology to empower individual participation through all stages of medical care.
How does this affect us?

As the healthcare industry starts to reengineer healthcare delivery to accommodate these new advances and demands, providers on the front lines of change recognize the need for increasing patients’ engagement in their own health care. This means that patients must be more involved in the self-management and the modification of their own risk factors. Educating patients about the meaning of their laboratory tests promotes this goal. When the patient understands the reasons specific tests are ordered, what the results mean, and how they are utilized in the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of their conditions, the more likely it is that the patient will do what is needed to attain and maintain a healthier state.

Patient education can be provided in many ways:

  • The physician directly
  • Laboratory Staff and other office staff who have the education to provide this information, such as nurses
  • The Reference laboratory: either directly if the patient visits; or by hard copy / on-line
  • Laboratory Information sites, such as Lab Tests Online; or Health Network Laboratories;
  •  Laboratory testing Information online provided by major clinics and hospitals

The importance of patient education about laboratory testing is heightened even more by the increasing acceptance of laboratory test orders originated directly by patients without a doctor’s order. This is now permitted by several states, with more added every year. This is another manifestation of patient empowerment. When patients order their own tests, they must have the correct and complete information to understand what the results mean; when it is necessary to follow up with physician visits; even when to seek immediate help.

Laboratories professionals need to consider how to adapt to these changes now. Public demand for more control over their healthcare will propel these changes in any case. It’s better to be ahead of the curve.