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How to Prevent Unneeded Office Visits for Medical Test Results

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Updated May 28, 2014

There are some steps you can take to be sure visits to your doctor's office are made only for important and necessary reasons when it comes to delivery of test results.

Before your original office visit (before the test is run):

Ask your doctor what his or her policy is for reporting medical test results to be sure they fit within the guidelines described on the previous page of this article. Will you get them by postal mail if they are bad news? (I hope not.) Will they require you to come in for routine test results delivery? (I hope not - that's why you are reading this article.)

Ask your doctor for the form he or she uses to indicate which friends or family members the doctor may also share information with. Fill out that form and if possible, keep a copy of it. If later the doctor tells you he or she cannot phone you with results, you'll have the paperwork that shows the doctor at some point previously thought that was all right to do.

Do not let them tell you that they will contact you only if there is a problem to report. That is not acceptable for safe care. Studies have shown that it's too easy for the bad news to fall through the cracks.

Check with your payer and find out what its policy is for delivering test results. Payers don't want to pay for any more doctor visits than they have to, so if you are being required to show up at the doctor's office when you don't think you should have to be there, they will want to know about it.

If you are concerned that there will be a question about this sort of requirement, and you aren't already tied to a provider who may create this scenario, then look for a doctor who works on salary. Salaried doctors do not operate under the same constraints of needing to produce this extra sort of income. You may find them in academic medical centers (university-related medical schools), or at large medical systems like the Mayo Clinic, or managed care systems like Kaiser.

After the test has already been run:

If, after you have already gotten the testing done, your doctor decides you must come to the office, even if you know the results are routine, then you'll need a different approach.

Begin by asking whether the visit is really necessary. State that you prefer to get your results by email or phone call or postal mail. You may find they back down and will deliver the news accordingly.

If they still insist on your visit, then tell them you'll be contacting your insurer to see what their policy is. Tell them you don't think a follow-up visit will be reimbursable to them unless there is something about the results that will require you to take follow up action.

If they continue to insist, and you are sure you don't need to be there, then ask them to postal mail the results to you. Tell them you are aware of the HIPAA laws that require the doctor, by law, to provide you with the results. They may decide to be difficult, but you can be difficult, too.

If you get to the point where you have to invoke HIPAA, then it will be time for you to find yourself another doctor. You will never trust that one again, and it will inhibit your ability to get good care from that doctor.

No matter what....

You must always get copies of your medical test records. Here are the instructions for getting your medical records should you run into problems.

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