As more patients gain direct access to lab reports and test results, health care providers are offering new tools to help them navigate the maze of numbers and use the data to better manage their own care.

Individual patients now can see their results on a wide variety of medical tests including complete blood counts, urinalysis and allergy tests, under a federal rule that went into effect in April and pre-empted a number of state laws prohibiting disclosure to individuals. The results must be available on request within 30 days, no physician's authorization required. Laboratories have until Oct. 6 to comply.

The 30-day window provides doctors with time to review sensitive or complicated lab findings and meet with the patient in person to discuss them. For routine tests, though, more labs and hospitals are sending results directly to the patient, in some cases on the same day that the doctor receives them.

Quest Diagnostics, which provides diagnostic information services to about 30% of U.S. adults a year, launched a new secure patient website, MyQuest by Care360, when the federal rule went into effect on April 7. Patients can view their lab results on the site at no charge within 48 to 72 hours in most states, or get them on a recently enhanced mobile app.

Since the April 7 website launch, Quest says it has delivered more than 700,000 lab results to users, four times the number sent in the prior six months.

Experts say patients with direct access to lab tests can spot worrisome results that may be overlooked or delayed at doctors' offices. Research suggests it is fairly common for abnormal test results to slip through the cracks. A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that communication snafus, including failure to inform patients of abnormal outpatient test results, happened in one of every 14 tests.

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