Management of Test Results in Family Medicine Offices

Department of Family Medicine, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
The Annals of Family Medicine (Impact Factor: 5.43). 07/2009; 7(4):343-51. DOI: 10.1370/afm.961
Source: PubMed


We wanted to explore test results management systems in family medicine offices and to delineate the components of quality in results management.
Using a multimethod protocol, we intensively studied 4 purposefully chosen family medicine offices using observations, interviews, and surveys. Data analysis consisted of iterative qualitative analysis, descriptive frequencies, and individual case studies, followed by a comparative case analysis. We assessed the quality of results management at each practice by both the presence of and adherence to systemwide practices for each results management step, as well as outcomes from chart reviews, patient surveys, and interview and observation notes.
We found variability between offices in how they performed the tasks for each of the specific steps of results management. No office consistently had or adhered to office-wide results management practices, and only 2 offices had written protocols or procedures for any results management steps. Whereas most patients surveyed acknowledged receiving their test results (87% to 100%), a far smaller proportion of patient charts documented patient notification (58% to 85%), clinician response to the result (47% to 84%), and follow-up for abnormal results (28% to 55%). We found 2 themes that emerged as factors of importance in assessing test results management quality: safety awareness-a leadership focus and communication that occurs around quality and safety, teamwork in the office, and the presence of appropriate policies and procedures; and technological adoption-the presence of an electronic health record, digital connections between the office and testing facilities, use of technology to facilitate patient communication, and the presence of forcing functions (built-in safeguards and requirements).
Understanding the components of safety awareness and technological adoption can assist family medicine offices in evaluating their own results management processes and help them design systems that can lead to higher quality care.

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    • "Modern communication technologies appear to offer one solution to improve reliability and consistency of result communication (5,6). However, modern information and communication platforms are only slowly being adopted in health care, and patient aspirations for appropriate information appear to exceed current levels of access (7). "
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    ABSTRACT: Objective: To understand how the results of laboratory tests are communicated to patients in primary care and perceptions on how the process may be improved. Design: Qualitative study employing staff focus groups. Setting: Four UK primary care practices. Participants: Staff involved in the communication of test results. Findings: Five main themes emerged from the data: (i) the default method for communicating results differed between practices; (ii) clinical impact of results and patient characteristics such as anxiety level or health literacy influenced methods by which patients received their test result; (iii) which staff member had responsibility for the task was frequently unclear; (iv) barriers to communicating results existed, including there being no system or failsafe in place to determine whether results were returned to a practice or patient; (v) staff envisaged problems with a variety of test result communication methods discussed, including use of modern technologies, such as SMS messaging or online access. Conclusions: Communication of test results is a complex yet core primary care activity necessitating flexibility by both patients and staff. Dealing with the results from increasing numbers of tests is resource intensive and pressure on practice staff can be eased by greater utilization of electronic communication. Current systems appear vulnerable with no routine method of tracing delayed or missing results. Instead, practices only become aware of missing results following queries from patients. The creation of a test communication protocol for dissemination among patients and staff would help ensure both groups are aware of their roles and responsibilities.
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    • "Those studies which described the systems used to deliver test results to physicians and how follow-up was documented ranged from paper-based medical records with test results delivered in hard copy2,29,30,33,34 to electronic medical records (EMR) with results transmitted electronically,2,33,34,39–41 or a combination of paper-based medical records and electronic or part-electronic test management systems.2,31,37,38 Evidence of the effectiveness of electronic test management systems to reduce missed follow-up was limited to five studies.2,34,39–41 "
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    ABSTRACT: Serious lapses in patient care result from failure to follow-up test results. To systematically review evidence quantifying the extent of failure to follow-up test results and the impact for ambulatory patients. Medline, CINAHL, Embase, Inspec and the Cochrane Database were searched for English-language literature from 1995 to 2010. Studies which provided documented quantitative evidence of the number of tests not followed up for patients attending ambulatory settings including: outpatient clinics, academic medical or community health centres, or primary care practices. Four reviewers independently screened 768 articles. Nineteen studies met the inclusion criteria and reported wide variation in the extent of tests not followed-up: 6.8% (79/1163) to 62% (125/202) for laboratory tests; 1.0% (4/395) to 35.7% (45/126) for radiology. The impact on patient outcomes included missed cancer diagnoses. Test management practices varied between settings with many individuals involved in the process. There were few guidelines regarding responsibility for patient notification and follow-up. Quantitative evidence of the effectiveness of electronic test management systems was limited although there was a general trend towards improved test follow-up when electronic systems were used. Most studies used medical record reviews; hence evidence of follow-up action relied upon documentation in the medical record. All studies were conducted in the US so care should be taken in generalising findings to other countries. Failure to follow-up test results is an important safety concern which requires urgent attention. Solutions should be multifaceted and include: policies relating to responsibility, timing and process of notification; integrated information and communication technologies facilitating communication; and consideration of the multidisciplinary nature of the process and the role of the patient. It is essential that evaluations of interventions are undertaken and solutions integrated into the work and context of ambulatory care delivery.
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