The New Brunswick government’s move to make blood test results available online is getting a good review from the executive director of Ability New Brunswick, a non-profit group that supports people with reduced mobility.
Some clients of the organization who have serious health issues are excited about the change, said Haley Flaro.
“It helps people to be better partners in their own health care,” she said.
People with chronic conditions such as diabetes, and people undergoing cancer treatments are among those who stand to benefit the most, said Flaro.
“They can take a look at the results in advance, write down questions, write down concerns and be prepared for their meeting with their primary health care providers.”
She also thinks it will help relieve the “very stressed” health system.
The New Brunswick Medical Society also welcomed greater patient access to records, saying that having lab results and “potentially other types of results” online could benefit patients and free up doctors’ time as well.
When results are normal, a patient wouldn’t have to make an appointment with a doctor, said Dr. Michèle Michaud, society president.
“In some cases, however, results may not be clear or easy to understand, in which case a followup appointment with a physician is still recommended.”
But not everyone has access to the new service yet.
For security reasons, only people whose identity has been confirmed in person at a medical appointment can get a “verified” MyHealthNB account, through which the results are provided, said Adam Bowie, a spokesperson for the Department of Health.
As of now, about 215,000 New Brunswickers have access, said Bowie, because they created verified accounts while registering to get online results for COVID-19 tests.
Others can get a registration code at their next blood clinic appointment, he said, but only at “select” regional health authority facilities.
A list of those select facilities was not available at publication time.
More ways will be added, he said, but he did not provide a timeframe for that.
‘Positive’ experience with Ontario portal
“It’s a great first step,” said Flaro, who looks forward to the planned future additions of other laboratory test results, immunizations and medication profiles.
“My experience in the Ontario system — where they not only have lab results, but they have digital imaging, they have charting from doctors, they have notes and recommendations — was extremely positive,” she said.
Flaro had access to the Ontario system last year, when she was helping to care for her father who was dying of cancer.
He wasn’t comfortable using a computer himself, so he gave her consent to check online for his results.
“We were able to see his imaging and see how, you know, some of his masses may have been increasing and we would then prepare for his meetings with his doctor.”
“If his iron was low, we’d note that down and be able to have a good conversation with the doctor about that.”
It was very helpful in his final seven months, she said, and gave him more of a say in his own care.
“Because how many of us can think on the spot in those 10- to 15-minute meetings with doctors?”
“It’s tough. I always encourage people to actually bring a note taker if you have a complex health issue, especially because we often don’t hear it all.”
As results came in, her father was able to “do some advanced thinking,” she said.
“He made all his own decisions.”
‘Information presented clearly’
Some people are worried about it being too impersonal a way to receive poor results, said Flaro, but in her experience there were safeguards against that.
Urgent or priority results were communicated in person, or by phone, as quickly as possible, she said.
Flaro said from what she’s seen of the New Brunswick system, the information is presented quite clearly.
But she hopes health authorities continue to build on it as a tool to improve health literacy.
“In Ontario, for example, it’s changed the way that doctors chart,” she said.
“They’ve had to make sure that they’re clinically accurate, obviously, meeting the physician standards, but they also need to learn how to chart in a way that is plain language and easy for people to understand.”
“I hope we’re going to see the emergence of organizational health-literacy units that focus their time on educating the public about health information in a better way.”