The Anxiety of Waiting For Test Results

Jan Hoffman | New York Times | July 23, 2012

...As medical records move online and state regulations loosen, many patients can bypass the doctor’s call and get the results of these tests faster, directly from labs via Web sites and apps. But new federal regulations may permit all patients that right by year’s end. Many experts are concerned that pervasive direct access to test results may have serious drawbacks, leaving patients even more confused and overwhelmed by information they do not know how to interpret.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 6.8 billion laboratory tests were performed in the United States in 2007. At that time, more than 4,000 diagnostic tests were available and 1,420 diseases could be detected with genetic testing.

The impact of waiting for test results on patient anxiety is significant. It has been studied in breast cancer biopsy patients, infertility patients and patients undergoing genetic testing, among others. Stress alone, these studies show, can affect recovery time and exacerbate side effects from medications. The psychological toll in households can also be harsh, especially among family members with clashing coping styles — if, say, one person has an optimistic bent, while the other tends to presume the worst...