Physicians are finding clever ways to incorporate technology into their practices, as patients and payers pressure them to become more efficient and accessible in delivering high quality care. Doctors have replaced traditional paper files with electronic medical records and begun to book video appointments through patients’ cell phones or laptops.  

Some have even started to notify patients of test results through emails and texts. But often, these resourceful doctors don’t ask a simple question before they push send: How do their patients actually want to be reached?

To offer some insight, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center asked 409 people how they would prefer to receive a variety of test results. They let respondents choose from seven methods: letter, password-protected website, voicemail on a cell phone, voicemail at home, fax, text and email.

The team found more people wanted to use a password-protected website than any other method. But respondents were also open to receiving voicemails or emails for some results such as those from colonoscopies or cholesterol level tests. However, participants had a clear preference for using password-protected websites when it comes to receiving results for genetic tests and those for sexually transmitted infections.

This survey means physicians who are currently sending test results for particularly sensitive tests may be doing so to the embarrassment of patients. The results were published Saturday in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Jeannine LaRocque, the lead researcher, suggested physicians who want to incorporate electronic methods to share test results should ask patients how they prefer to receive their results, rather than just assuming everyone is happy with the same method.

Her results also indicate doctors may want to do away with some methods altogether. Even for basic tests, people preferred not to receive their results by text or through a home voicemail. And across all tests, patients detested one notification method above all others -- fax.