Test Results: No News is NOT Good News

You’ve done your job– you’ve seen the doctor and had your pap smear done, or your lab work done, or your x-ray done, and now you’re waiting for the call to tell you what the results are.

Here’s the problem: Many doctors don’t have their practices organized in a way that makes it certain:

  • that they will get all results back from all the tests that they send out or order, and/or
  • that they follow up with patients on all abnormal results

But you don’t know this, so when you don’t hear from the doctor’s office after tests, you assume that everything’s ok– “they would call if something was wrong.” This assumption can be dangerous.

“There is growing evidence that the failure to follow-up on abnormal test results is a common medical error that can compromise patient safety.”1

To be sure that you get the results from your tests, when you’re checking out at the front desk after an office visit, ask what tests were done or ordered. Write them down so that you can follow-up to make sure that you receive an all clear on each of the tests.

If you are in the office when the lab results come back, ask for a copy of them right then. If you’re getting the results by phone, ask them to send you a copy for your records. Either way, just don’t put off getting a copy of the tests.

“Approximately 6% of patients hospitalized in a major academic medical center had important, abnormal test results return after their discharge without the knowledge of the responsible physician.”1

Studies, Footnotes and Resources:

  1. Sung, Sharon, Valerie Forman-Hoffman, Mark C. Wilson, and Peter Cram. “Direct Reporting of Laboratory Test Results to Patients by Mail to Enhance Patient Safety.” Journal of General Internal Medicine 21 (2006) 1075-1078

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