Presentation of laboratory test results in patient portals: Influence of interface design on risk interpretation and visual search behaviour

Paolo Fraccaro, Markel Vigo, Panagiotis Balatsoukas, Sabine N. Van Der Veer, Lamiece Hassan, Richard Williams, Grahame Wood, Smeeta Sinha, Iain Buchan, Niels Peek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Patient portals are considered valuable instruments for self-management of long term conditions, however, there are concerns over how patients might interpret and act on the clinical information they access. We hypothesized that visual cues improve patients' abilities to correctly interpret laboratory test results presented through patient portals. We also assessed, by applying eye-tracking methods, the relationship between risk interpretation and visual search behaviour. Methods: We conducted a controlled study with 20 kidney transplant patients. Participants viewed three different graphical presentations in each of low, medium, and high risk clinical scenarios composed of results for 28 laboratory tests. After viewing each clinical scenario, patients were asked how they would have acted in real life if the results were their own, as a proxy of their risk interpretation. They could choose between: 1) Calling their doctor immediately (high interpreted risk); 2) Trying to arrange an appointment within the next 4 weeks (medium interpreted risk); 3) Waiting for the next appointment in 3 months (low interpreted risk). For each presentation, we assessed accuracy of patients' risk interpretation, and employed eye tracking to assess and compare visual search behaviour. Results: Misinterpretation of risk was common, with 65% of participants underestimating the need for action across all presentations at least once. Participants found it particularly difficult to interpret medium risk clinical scenarios. Participants who consistently understood when action was needed showed a higher visual search efficiency, suggesting a better strategy to cope with information overload that helped them to focus on the laboratory tests most relevant to their condition. Conclusions: This study confirms patients' difficulties in interpreting laboratories test results, with many patients underestimating the need for action, even when abnormal values were highlighted or grouped together. Our findings raise patient safety concerns and may limit the potential of patient portals to actively involve patients in their own healthcare.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2018


  • clinical [MeSH]
  • Computer utilization
  • Computers/utilization [MeSH]
  • Decision making [MeSH]
  • Decision support systems
  • Eye tracking
  • Laboratory test results
  • Patient access to records [MeSH]
  • Patient portals
  • Patients access to records
  • Personal health record [MeSH]
  • Personal health records
  • User-computer interface [MeSH]


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