Patients often don’t get abnormal test results

By Sheryl Kay • Published: September 29th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Hold the celebrations.

Although some might see it as a positive outcome when a doctor doesn’t follow up with test results, research now shows the lack of communication does not necessarily mean a disease-free health report.

In a study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, findings indicated that in one out of fourteen instances, doctors failed to inform patients about abnormal cancer screenings. In some cases the failure rate was even higher, topping off at twenty-six percent of the patients seen at one doctor’s office.

In what is believed to be the first study to assess the failure-to-inform percentage across an assortment of medical tests and types of practices, researchers reviewed the records of more than five-thousand randomly selected patients ages fifty to sixty-nine. Of the nearly nineteen-hundred abnormal tests reported, one hundred-thirty-five went unreported or had no documentation to show a report was given to the patient. The highest failure rates were noted in practices where both paper and electronic records were used.

The researchers noted that most practices did not have precise rules for advising patients of test outcomes. And that many doctors’ offices are overloaded with paperwork, making it easy for test reports to be misplaced, or overlooked. They concluded the study’s results should serve as a wake-up call to both doctors and patients alike, and advised patients to become more proactive. After two weeks, if there’s been no news from the doctor, patients should call for a follow-up.