Waiting for Test Results? Keep Waiting

Tuesday, Jul 28, 2009  |  Updated 10:18 PM CDT
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Waiting for Test Results? Keep Waiting

Getty Images / Joe Raedle

It’s a standard line at the doctor’s office, “if there’s anything wrong, we’ll give you a call.” Well, don’t hold your breath.

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It’s a standard line at the doctor’s office, “if there’s anything wrong, we’ll give you a call.” Well, don’t hold your breath. Primary care providers – from clinicians to staff – can sometimes fail to inform patients of abnormal test results or to document that they have made contact, according to a study by Cornell Medical College.

Authors of the report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association' Archives of Internal Medicine, reviewed the medical records of nearly 3,500 patients from 23 primary care facilities and surveyed physicians about their process for managing test results. They found that, on average, 7.1 percent of the time either patients were not informed of abnormal test results or clinicians failed to document that they had informed patients about their results.

“Failure rates varied widely among practices... from 0 percent to 26 percent,” the study says. Clinics with better processes in place were found to have lower failure rates. Practices that used a combination of paper and electronic records—a so-called partial electronic medical record—had the highest failure rates. But there was no significant difference between practices that used only electronic or paper records.

The authors write, “There are many steps in the testing process, which extends from ordering a test to providing appropriate follow-up; an error in any one of these steps can have lethal consequences.”

The upshot? If you haven't heard from the doctor, you might want to make a call yourself... just in case.

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