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How to Get Your Medical Test Results

Don't Assume They Are OK If the Doctor Doesn't Call

By

Updated February 21, 2014

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Never assume that if you don't hear back from your doctor that your medical test results are OK. Always ask for those results!

Getty Images - John Moore
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As of late 2014, labs are required to provide you with the results if you ask. Check with the individual medical lab to see how they want you to make the request.

Getty Images - Tim Boyle

(Updated February 2014 - see below.)

When was the last time you had a medical test – anything from a blood test to a PSA, or a mammogram to a CT scan – and you didn’t hear back from the doctor’s office with your medical test results?

Or – maybe your doctor told you he or she would call you if there was a problem? And since you didn't hear from him or her, you assumed everything was OK? Calling only for problems has been the practice of many doctors for many years. And it was probably mostly OK for many years, too, because doctors were not squeezed for time in the ways they are now. They could keep much better track in those days.

But today? That’s no longer true. More and more providers just aren’t making the calls or contacts that need to be made – and patients are paying the price. While we may be very understanding of why our providers aren’t keeping us posted on our results, we cannot expect that if we don’t hear, then everything is OK.

Studies have shown that increasingly, patients are not getting the medical test results they should be getting. Too often physicians and other providers fail to provide them, even when they turn up problematic results.

That means we need to step up! Yes – we patients need to stay on top of our providers until we get the answers we need. We can even get our results directly from the lab where the test was done, if necessary (see February 2014 update below.)

Here's how to be sure you get your medical test results:

  • When you have a medical test, no matter what kind of test it is, ask how soon the results will be ready. You may be told 10 minutes, or two days or even a week. It’s not that you are trying to hurry anyone. No – you are just managing your own expectations.
     
  • Then, ask how you will be notified of the results. They should tell you they will call you. From there, pin down when you can expect the phone call. You should expect to hear from them by the end of the day on which the results will be available.
     
  • If you are told that you will not hear unless there is a problem? Then reply that – sorry – that’s not good enough. You would like notification no matter what the results are, positive, negative, normal, abnormal.
     
  • And no matter what you are told about whether they will call or not, make sure to get the name and phone number of who can report your results to you, because, if you don’t hear from them, then it will be up to you to call and ask.
     
  • If the expected phone call time comes and goes, and you don’t hear by the time they tell you that you will hear, then place that call to the right person and get your test results. If they take a message and you don't hear back within a few hours, then call again. Continue to pursue those results until someone calls you with them.
     
  • Finally, regardless of what the results are, ask for a printed copy. Ask that it be postal or e-mailed to you, or even faxed to you. You may want to ask the person who handles your testing paperwork to make a notation before you are tested so that they will know to provide the information even before you remind them.

The system is not set up to make it easy for providers to provide our medical test results to us, so we need to make sure we patients chase them down ourselves.

Update!  February 2014

A new rule has been enacted by the federal government which requires labs to provide test results to patients who request them. The labs have up to 30 days to supply the results to patients which they may do either electronically or on paper. The law takes effect in October 2014.

Each lab will use its own policies for making the request, so ask your lab what their protocol is, then follow it, if you want to get your results directly from them.

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