Obtaining Medical Test Results

Don't Assume Anything When It Comes to Your Medical Test Results

Doctor handing paper to patient.
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Obtaining medical test results is a must. If your doctor orders medical tests to help diagnose your arthritis or to monitor your treatment, don't stop short of obtaining the results yourself. Many patients don't realize they are entitled to a full report of their medical test results. They view the results as information for the doctor. While it is for the doctor, it is also important to obtain the medical test results so that you can be informed, follow along, and ask questions when you don't fully understand.

Don't Make These Common Mistakes

Don't Assume No News Is Good News

When it comes to medical test results, you shouldn't assume that no news is good news. That's probably the biggest mistake patients make. They assume the doctor or a member of his staff would call if there was something significant to report. In a perfect world, maybe.

In my years of experience as a patient, I have seen medical test results delivered a variety of ways. I have had doctors who call themselves to deliver negative reports. I have had doctors who have staff call to inform a repeat test is needed. I have had doctors wait to discuss results at the next appointment, with the consequence being delayed treatment that could have been started earlier.

My best experience was when a doctor called to give me good news so I didn't have to wait and worry for an entire weekend. Beyond considerate I thought -- but it often doesn't go down that way.

Don't Assume You Will Be Called With Results

You should not assume that you will be called with your medical test results. Not all doctor's offices function efficiently. Studies have shown that failure to notify patients of abnormal results and failure to document the notification of patients is not uncommon.

Doctors themselves are often not happy with the management of test results. It has been suggested that making medical test results available online would improve the situation. Be that as it may, you shouldn't settle for being a dissatisfied patient -- you can and should be assertive in obtaining your medical test results.

Tips for Getting Your Medical Test Results

You stand a better chance of getting your medical test results within a reasonable time frame if you follow this advice.

  • When the test is ordered by your doctor, ask when he expects the results.
  • Ask how and when you will be notified of the results.
  • Ask who you should contact if you are not notified and how long to wait before making contact.
  • If you are forwarded to voicemail, wait one day before trying again. Don't wait longer than that.
  • Don't give up.

Such simple and obvious advice, right? Yet, you would be surprised how many people don't follow through. Some believe it's not their job to chase down results. Some forget they are not the doctor's only patient and unfortunately it is possible to fall through the cracks.

Some are intimidated by medical test results and not knowing has a certain appeal.

Clearly, it's in your best interest to know the results. Take some responsibility in the process and be sure the results are forwarded to you. You are entitled to a printed copy of the results too -- not just verbal. Remember, you're not imposing, you're entitled to the information.


Frequency of Failure to Inform Patients of Clinically Significant Outpatient Test Results. Archives of Internal Medicine. Casalino LP et al. June 22, 2009.

"I Wish I Had Seen This Test Result Earlier!" Dissatisfaction With Test Result Management Systems in Primary Care. Archives of Internal Medicine. Poon EG et al. November 8, 2004.

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