The failure of doctors and medical facilities to follow-up and give people test results is "relatively common," the researchers wrote, even when the results are abnormal and potentially troublesome, and affects one of every 14 tests.
"If you're a patient, it's often assumed that no news is good news," acknowledged Dr. Lawrence P. Casalino, an associate professor and chief of the division of outcomes and effectiveness research in the public
Casalino and his colleagues report their findings in the June 22 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
The researchers reviewed the medical records of 5,434 people aged 50 to 69 years old. They focused on those who, in the previous year, had abnormal results on one of 11 blood tests or one of three screening tests at primary care facilities in the Midwest and on the West Coast. They also combed through responses to 176 surveys completed by physicians designed to assess test result management procedures at each facility.
The study found that in 135 cases -- of 1,889 abnormal test results -- either the person was not informed of the test results or the facility had not documented having communicated with the patient about the results. The upshot: more than a 7 percent failure rate in communicating abnormal test results.