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Patients Often Not Informed About Abnormal Test Results

A recent study finds that people who visit their primary care doctor for routine blood tests or screening are frequently not informed of the results of those tests, even if they come back abnormal. To come to these conclusions the researchers looked at the medical records of 5434 people ages 50 to 59 years old. Their primary focus were those patients who had abnormal test results on 1 of 11 blood tests or 1 of 3 screening tests in the past year at Midwest and West Coast primary care facilities. They also reviewed 176 survey responses from physicians designed to asses the test result management procedures at each office. The authors of this study showed that even when the results are troublesome, the results of approximately 1 of every 14 abnormal tests are not reported to the patient. In 135 cases (of 1889 abnormal test results) either the patient was not informed of the results or the facility had kept no record or having told the person: more than a 7% failure rate in communicating abnormal test results. Most of the offices involved in the study did not follow basic protocols where they existed for informing patients, and even fewer had a defined policy on communicating the results to patients at all.

The researchers recommend that patients should always know whether their test results were normal or not. If you haven’t received the results of the test, call the doctor’s office and ask for them. Even if they come back normal, you should still be aware. This is particularly important, physicians note, when changing doctors or moving from an in-patient hospital stay to outpatient treatment. Patients should not accept when a doctor or lab tech says they will let you know if something is wrong. The result of this study indicate that even if something is wrong, you may never find out. Physicians recommend patients ask for their test results every time, whether or not the results are of concern, in order to always stay informed.

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