Who Is Responsible For Following Up Test Results


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How does your surgery deal with any abnormal results that might come in for a patient? These might come in via the hospital via the computer/paper and at times via a telephone call from the hospital itself if immediate action is needed.

How do you communicate with your patients that they need to be seen regarding the tests or perhaps notifying them that they have a prescription to collect?

In my experience the Doctor/Nurse or often the receptionist will phone the patient and advise them to either make an appointment or come in and collect a prescription.

Does your surgery keep a record of all test taken and check that all results are back and dealt with in the appropriate way?

There had been at times when I was a Receptionist that some results for what ever reason  never come back from the hospital to the surgery.

There is always a chance on human error – and although we all know how hard we work and how good we are at our jobs that it can still happen. Sometimes A doctor might intend to ring a patient and that gets overlooked, a receptionist has a message to call a patient and that for whatever reason that does not get done, or someone could presume that someone else has done it, there could be a number of reasons why a patient might not be contacted. The hospital may have mislaid the test – sometimes the test is not labelled correctly and therefore needs to be repeated – and for whatever reason the patient does not get told about this.

These occasions are I am pleased to say very far and few between. But they could happen.

An incident similar to one of those above did happen years ago when paper copies of tests came through daily to the surgery – a patient abnormal test results were overlooked and filed away. It did cause a lot of unnecessary worry for the patient when they came back in to the surgery with the ongoing illness and of course this was not good for the surgery.

Just recently a friend of mine her young baby had a bad eye infection; the test was taken and sent off to the hospital. She didn’t hear anything from the surgery on my advise phoned the surgery to see if the results were  back – she was told twice they still were not back. No one at her surgery suggested they would follow them up. My friend was under the impression as there was no news that the tests would have been ok.

She went to see the nurse about another issue and asked about the results – which had been done some days ago by this point. This highlighted to the nurse that they didn’t have the result back so she phoned the hospital to find that the results were there and that there was an infection and antibiotics were needed. The hospital had not contacted the surgery and the results for whatever reason had not been sent out by this point (which now is done via computer link). My friend was of the opinion that if she hadn’t asked it could have gone on over the weekend before she had heard from the surgery – if at all.

In my experience as a Receptionist I would always suggest to the patient that if they had not heard with a certain timescale (depending on the test takes) to phone the surgery to check if the results were back.

Your surgery might want to try to avoid patients phoning for test results, tlephones are busy at the best of times, and I know there are quite a few tests done on a daily/weekly basis – but I think it is worth taking that extra phone call to ensure that the tests have actually come back.  Then if the patient decides not to phone – which many don’t then you as a surgery cannot be held responsible if in the event that a result is overlooked.

So, whose responsibility is it in your surgery to ensure that the patient receives the results of any abnormal results? Everyone would automatically say it’s the responsibility of the surgery. But patients sometimes need to take responsibility too.

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2 thoughts on “Who Is Responsible For Following Up Test Results

  1. Patients where I work are asked to call or phone in for their results. This does make extra work, but that way they are doing the chasing up, which in some ways takes some of the burden away from reception staff.
    We are only permitted to give these results out if the GP has commented ‘Normal no action’ beside them, making it absolutely clear that all is OK… This time! If patients press for details, such as their cholesterol … (They always want that one don’t they?) or PSA we can read that out but must not comment in our own small wisdom, as we could mislead them by giving our own inept opinion on any figures.
    If the GP has left a message, we may read that out verbatim, but again we must not get caught out by trying to enlarge on what he says.
    Any doubts, ask the patient to speak to the GP!
    It’s a minefield… And when you are rushed, something can easily blow up in your face!
    From the point of view of results being opened, at least most of the path ones now ‘come down the link’ and are with the GP in a very short time without any frantic slitting open of envelopes!!

    • Sounds like your Surgery have it all covered. The Receptionist should never been put in a position wereby they are “pushed” into giving out results. You highlighted “being rushed and how things could blow up in your face” you are so right – the Receptionist should never be put in that position that she has to give out results – but many surgeries do ask their Receptionists to do so.

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