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New study to evaluate patients’ electronic access to medical test results

8 November 2019

A new study by researchers at the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions and the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol will review and evaluate the electronic test results services currently offered to patients in general practice across England, in order to understand what works well, for whom, in what circumstances and why. 

Nurse and patient look at medical record together in front of computer screen

Increasingly patients are being offered the opportunity to access medical test results electronically, through online access and other methods such as text messaging.  This has the potential to offer benefits to both patients and practices but could result in unintended negative consequences. The evidence on both sides is currently limited.  

The Access Study aims to find out what types of electronic access to medical records are currently being used in general practices in England and how patient and staff experience these systems. It will draw together the costs and benefits linked to electronic test result access.  

The study will use a mixed methods approach, including sending out a questionnaire survey to a sample of practices across England to identify what electronic medical test services are currently being offered to patients and by what types of practices. 

Anonymised patient records from a sample of practices will be analysed to find out if patients who access their medical test results electronically differ from those patients who do not with respect to age, gender, social deprivation, and health conditions.  Interviews will be conducted with patients and practice staff about their experiences and views of using (or not) the electronic test services offered by their general practice, and what helps and hinders using them. 

The results will help develop a framework for an economic evaluation in the future, and guide policy makers and practices looking to roll out electronic access of results to patients on how to do this in the best way possible.  

Dr Gemma Lasseter, from the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Evaluation of Interventions and Centre of Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol, who is leading the study, said: “With over 300 million patient consultations in general practices annually, introducing digital tools to provide patients with their medical test results electronically has the potential to support self-management and deliver cost-effective improvements.  Although policy makers see such tools as an opportunity to digitally transform the NHS, there is currently a lack of robust evidence about the pros and cons of the different electronic medical test result services currently being offered by general practices in England.  

“It is important that future policy and commissioning decisions about test results services are informed by evidence, so that the most appropriate services are adopted by general practices.  Our research plans to evaluate the services already being offered in a range of practices to help inform future procurement decisions.”

If you or your practice has experience of offering electronic test results services and would like to know more about the study, please contact Gemma Lasseter for more information.  

Further information

About the NIHR HPRU in Evaluation of Interventions at the University of Bristol

The Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Evaluation of Interventions, based in Population Health Sciences at the University of Bristol, is part of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and a partnership between University of Bristol and Public Health England (PHE), in collaboration with University College London, Cambridge Medical Research Council (MRC) Biostatistics Unit and University of the West of England. We are a multidisciplinary team undertaking applied research on the development and evaluation of interventions to protect the public’s health. Our aim is to support PHE in delivering its objectives and functions. Our focus is on the PHE priority area of infection. Follow us on Twitter: @HPRU_EI 

About the NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy.

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.