A study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that:
“Failures to inform patients of clinically significant abnormal test results or to document that they have been informed appear to be relatively common, occurring in 1 of every 14 tests.”
This is a stunning finding. There are all too many practices – more than one is too many – that still go by the “no news is good news” policy. The patient is told that if they don’t hear from the practice, the results are fine.
I have never accepted that answer. I always ask when I should call them if I haven’t heard.
For an industry that claims to practice defensive medicine, not contacting all patients for all test results is a guaranteed way to generate more than one, very deserving, lawsuit.
Here’s how to handle test results:
1. Every patient will be sent a letter. Those with problems will be called.
2. Every patient is told that if they have not been contacted by a certain date, they should call the office. Letters get lost, thrown out by accident – whatever. This is your check that your message got through.
3. Better yet – use one of the secure call in services. My internist started using one, and it is great. The physician calls the secure line and dictates a message. The patient can then call in, at their convenience, and listen to the message. No phone tag, no waiting around all day for the call. The physician can dictate at or For the patient, they also hear the tone of voice – the auditory cues that are so important in communication.
These messages can be delivered in a secure email system, but my preference is the phone system. It’s probably faster for the physician to “dictate” their message for the patient than to type (or dictate) an email. The auditory cues of the voice are important for the patient’s understanding of what they are being told. Almost everyone has a telephone, or access to one – something which is not the case with computers.