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Patient Follow-up Is Vital

This week a number of news organization ran stories about how frequently physicians fail to inform patients about abnormal tests results. The New York Times reported on research finding that over 7% of clinically significant abnormal findings were never reported to the patient by their doctors. NBC Nightly News reported on this same study, indicating that one in 14 patients were not informed of abnormal findings by their doctors.

The research that led to these news stories was conducted by Dr. Lawrence P. Casalino, an associate professor at the Weill Cornell Medical Center. He reviewed the records of 5,434 patients at 19 primary care centers and 4 academic medical centers.

Dr. Casalino's study has important implications for patients. It demonstrates that patients should not rely upon their doctors or their doctors' staff to relay test results. Patients should not assume that no news from their doctor means good news (that is, no telephone call means that the test results must have been normal). The repeated inability of doctors and/or doctors' offices to communicate test results to patients means that patients should ask for copies of their tests results, and should review those results on their own.

Some of the more common test results that should be sought by patients are blood tests, mammogram reports, x-ray reports, MRI reports, CT scan reports, and pap smear results.