1. Health

Why Does My Doctor Make Me Return to the Office to Get My Medical Test Results?

It takes time and effort, and may be for the doctor's advantage, not yours.


Updated May 28, 2014

Some patients have complained that doctors are requiring them to make office visit appointments in order to do simple things like have their routine medical test results reported to them. These patients wonder why their doctors require them to return to the office to get medical test results.

Here are some reasons and action steps to make sure you don't have to see the doctor to get routine test results.

Reports are generated for every medical test you get, whether it's performed in the doctor's office or in another location. In all cases, you, the patient, need to know the results. Getting your test results, no matter how they are reported to you, is a necessity - not optional.

There are three main reasons a doctor might order tests for you. One reason would be to diagnose you. The second reason would be to measure the effectiveness of a treatment. The third reason would be to monitor a chronic illness or condition.

Your medical test results will produce three possible outcomes, and each type requires different delivery:

If your test results are bad news then they should always be reported in person. Bad news might be a new and difficult diagnosis, or it might be that treatment has failed. I've been on the receiving end of bad news delivered by telephone and believe me, it was horrible and frightening. You want the professional who has some of the answers for you sitting across from you when that news is delivered. You probably want someone you love next to you, too, and that likely wouldn't happen on a phone call either.

If your test results are complicated or require follow-up then they should be reported in person, too. For example, you may have learned that a colonoscopy revealed some polyps. It's not necessarily bad news because you may already know they are benign. But you'll need follow up in the form of new details: explanations of your treatment options, getting a referral and appointment for your treatment choice, explanation of that procedure and more.

If your test results show that no follow up is required (maybe they are good news, or perhaps they are your standard answers - nothing has changed), then they can be reported by phone, email, by your online access to your own medical record, or even by postal mail. They should not require a follow up visit to the doctor's office. Examples of this type of testing might be your annual mammogram which is entirely negative, or a regular cholesterol check which hasn't become problematic since the last one.

Some doctors will tell you they cannot deliver test results by phone because they could be in violation of HIPAA privacy laws. This is not true - they can talk to the patient on the phone and provide all the necessary information as long as they are sure that it is the patient they are talking to. They can also leave a message on an answering machine requesting the patient return their call, at which time they can deliver test results on the phone.

Why the Doctor May Insist you Come to the Office

For any reporting or follow up your doctor must deliver to you, good or bad, that requires more than a minute or two to deliver, it's not only wise to receive that information in his or her office, in person (so you can continue to ask follow up questions) but it's fair, too. In most cases, when your doctor delivers services on your behalf, then the only way he or she can be paid (reimbursed by your insurer) is if you sign-in for an appointment. When your doctor has invested his or her time and efforts into your care, then it's only fair he or she be paid. So make those appointments.

However, if your test results are in that third category with no follow-up needed, your doctor may have another reason to insist you come in to the office anyway - money.

First, some doctors are looking at ways to beef up their income. That means bringing patients back to the office as often as possible, even if it makes no sense for the patient. For each visit, that doctor is paid a co-pay by the patient and is reimbursed for the visit by the patient's insurance.

This seems to be happening more frequently since the passage of the healthcare reform law. It's being done by doctors who fear a loss of income once reform is implemented, and who don't care what negative effect they may have on their patients' time or efforts. It takes patients time to get to the office, and to wait in the office. It costs them money to get there. For many patients it means lost work time, too.

Secondly, they may look at it as a way to save money, too. Phone time, whether it's the doctor or someone else on staff who makes the phone call, is not reimbursable by most insurers. That means that if the doctor, nurse or someone else delivers your test results by phone or email, then they aren't being paid for that service, plus they lose the opportunity to use that time working with another patient whose visit would require reimbursable services that would generate income, too.

But those money reasons aren't good enough reasons for you to return when there is no other, test-result-related reason to do so. Not only does that time and effort come at your expense, but it is an added cost for both your insurance or other payer like Medicare or Medicaid because they are paying the doctor.

All those extra office visits add up and cost us all money - as insured patients and as taxpayers, too. There is nothing right about this practice of making patients return for no reason except to line the doctor's pockets.

Next page: What To Do to Prevent Unneeded Office Visits for Test Results

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