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Fresh from the Lab

A new rule from the US Department of Health and Human Services requires that clinical labs allow patients access to their lab results without going through the ordering physician, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The rule modifies aspects of both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability and the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, and aims to give patients more control over their health.

"Information like lab results can empower patients to track their health progress, make decisions with their healthcare professionals and adhere to important treatment plans," Kathleen Sebelius, the head of health and human services department, said.

Physicians' groups warn that patients may overreact to certain results without interpretation by a doctor and urge that a disclaimer is included.

The Journal notes that between 7 percent and 26 percent of abnormal lab results aren't returned quickly to patients, likely, says Deven McGraw, director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, due to doctors' offices being busy.

The new rule is a sort of "safety net — so that patients know you can get your lab results from another avenue," Reid Blackwelder, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, says to the Journal. "But it does not remove the responsibility of the provider to make sure we communicate what the results mean for you."