As a hospital patient, it is almost certain that your doctors will order tests to determine your diagnosis and/or treatment plans. Getting the results of these tests, and following through with care based on the findings, is critical for your health. But sometimes you don’t get these results before you are discharged. What happens if you don’t get your test results when you leave the hospital?
Tests results can slip through the cracks.
A recent study found that more often than not, medical providers are not following up on tests conducted at a hospital. It’s easy to understand how this can lead to serious health consequences, including missed or delayed diagnosis and even death.
The researchers reviewed the data from 12 previous studies and found that there was no follow up after discharge for 20% – 60% of tests conducted on hospitalized patients. For emergency department patients, there was no follow up for 1% – 75% of test results.
Another study found that no one read results before patients left the hospital for 47% of tests ordered on the day of patient discharge. 41% of these same test results were still unread two months after discharge.
It’s interesting to note that the lack of follow up was found with multiple reporting methods: paper-based reporting systems, electronic test management systems, and a combination of paper and digital methods.
How do missed test results impact patients?
These unread tests may show important information that will obviously never be acted on unless the results are read. Patients may suffer the consequences of delayed, incorrect or missed treatments. It’s clear that unread test results can negatively impact your health.
What makes this problem even more worrisome is the fact that hospital discharge is a critical time for many patients.
How can you make sure you get your test results when you leave the hospital?
I recommend the following steps for patients and/or family caregivers:
- Keep detailed notes in a notebook on all tests. Write down the test type, date of test, expected date of results, reason for the tests, and any possible next steps based on outcomes. Ask who will be responsible for notifying you with the results.
- Make sure you receive the test results from each test performed. If a doctor or nurse does not provide the results by the expected date, contact the office to get the results. DO NOT assume that no news is good news. Your results might have slipped through the cracks. Follow up as often as necessary until you have the results.
- Keep records in a notebook and keep physical copies of your test results in an accordion file or similar filing system.
- Speak with your medical team after you receive the test results – make sure you and your doctor know and follow the next steps, if any.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up! Be politely aggressive.
For information on reducing the risk of complications after discharge, read my post Tips for Hospital Discharges.