YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Few people are using a new hospital hot line patients can call for lab results, a system one official says was designed to improve communication.

Only seven of the Yokota hospital’s 30 physicians communicate with patients through AudioNotes, which relays private, recorded messages regarding test results, said Scott Chittenden, the hospital’s patient safety director.

Hospital records show even fewer patients retrieve the messages, made available through the automated line patients call to refill prescriptions.

Chittenden said he informs patients of the service at weekly base newcomer briefings and is encouraging doctors to use the system, though the hospital has not made it a mandatory practice.

The lack of participation, among both patients and physicians, likely stems from a hesitation to break from routine, though more doctors recently have indicated they are willing to begin using AudioNotes, Chittenden said.

AudioNotes does not prevent errors in producing or reading lab results but rather increases communication between patients and health care providers that can reduce the effect of such mistakes, Chittenden said. He said the automated service, which costs about $35,000 a year, will pay for itself if used properly.

Used by other Air Force hospitals, AudioNotes is designed to ease patient worries when their lab results come back normal. That allows health care providers to concentrate on directly calling those with abnormal test results who require treatment or further testing, officials said.

For example, one of the 62 AudioNotes messages is: “Your HIV test came back negative.”

Others remind patients to schedule routine tests, such as colon cancer screenings.

The system is a way patients can verify the “no-news-is-good-news” practice common in communicating medical testing results in both the military and the civilian world, Chittenden said.

AudioNotes also reduces the workload by cutting down on “phone tag” between patients and providers, Lt. Col. Susan Moran, chief of clinical services at the office of the command surgeon at Pacific Air Forces, told Stars and Stripes in an e-mail.

It takes on average three calls to reach patients, and privacy restrictions prevent results from being left on private voicemail even when the results are normal, Moran said. “Yokota’s patients will benefit from this program by more convenient access to lab results through a secure 24/7 venue,” she said.

Sometimes, however, normal lab results simply rule out maladies and indicate further tests are required for a diagnosis. Health care providers at Yokota directly call patients in these types of cases, Moran said.

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