A recent report published in the journal Quality and Safety in Health Care, and reported by Tara Parker Pope, showed that our primary care doctors are dropping the ball when it comes to the medical tests we are getting.
Among the problems:
- a test should have been ordered (but wasn't) or the wrong test was ordered (13%)
- the test was not administered correctly (18%)
- a mistake led to a delay in treatment (24%)
- the patient had to spend more time or money because of a mistake (22%)
- the patient suffered further pain or suffering from the mistake (11%)
And 7% of the time, the results just aren't being reported back to us patients. Based on my own experience? I'd say that number is low. In fact, this summer when I needed a chest x-ray to confirm pneumonia, it took me three phone calls and a visit to the doctor's office to get a hold of the report.
Among all these problems, there is one that we patients can fix for ourselves. That is -- we don't have to simply wait for someone to contact us with test results. We should be proactively seeking the results ourselves. Here's how:
- When the test is ordered, ask the doctor how long it will take to get the results, and how you will be notified. If she tells you (like mine did) that they'll call you if there is a problem? Tell her you want to be notified regardless of whether a problem is detected or not. Ask that a note be put on your chart that you want a copy of the results.
- Prior to the test, whether it is handled there in the doctor's office, or at a lab, tell the test administrator to make a note on your results to mail a copy to you when the results are returned to the doctor. (If you go to a lab, they can't/won't send them to you. You have to get them from the doctor who ordered them, or a doctor you were referred to after the test was ordered.)
- If you don't hear by the end of the day that the results are expected, then phone the doctor's office and ask for the results. If they give you the results over the phone, then ask for a copy to be mailed to you.
- Stay on top of it. Even if your test is clear, that may become a benchmark later, so you still want to be sure to get a copy of the results.
Some of this procedure is regulated by state and federal law. There is a formal procedure for requesting any kind of medical records or test results which you can use if necessary.
Smart patients know that keeping copies of test results and other medical records may be important for them in both the short and long term.
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