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Getting Test Results from Your Doctor: What You Should Know

Waiting for test results can be frustrating – here’s everything you need to know about getting test results from your doctor.

Updated: 22 July 2022

Whether it’s just blood work, a pregnancy test, or even a biopsy, waiting for the test results of any medical procedure can be stressful. Getting test results from doctors can very often feel like a waiting game. Some doctors call, text, or even email patients with results, with some requiring in-person consultations. Both approaches work well – and in a pandemic-stricken era, electronically or virtually, sharing test results is becoming more frequent.

Either way, here is what you should know about getting test results from your doctor.

Getting Test Results from Your Doctor – What to Expect

Doctors are in a notoriously busy profession, which is often why many physicians will first review your test results and thereafter email, text, or call with the results. Medical professionals know that patients want a personal touch, but phone calls can be time-consuming, so sometimes, a nurse or administrative assistant will call with the news. You might even need to give them a gentle reminder too – if a doctor doesn’t call with test results, follow up with them.

What About Bad Results?

Often a doctor wants to be able to deliver bad news in a controlled environment, so they can provide support and discuss a treatment plan. But this also doesn’t mean you should fear the worst if your doctor asks you to come in for a follow-up consultation.

It also doesn’t mean patients have to follow suit – so, if you want to get your results by phone or email, it’s within your rights to ask for this option. Whether the news is good or bad – it’s your decision.

You might be wondering if your doctor will call you if the results of your X-ray, MRI, or any other medical test is bad? Most likely, yes. It’s important for doctors to communicate test results to their patients clearly and in good time. Although most doctors may prefer to have an in-person discussion to provide counselling if needed and further information.

What About Blood Test Results?

Can doctors tell you blood test results over the phone?

As this is one of the most routine testing methods, it is unlikely that a doctor will request a follow-up appointment after blood tests. Unless there is something out of the ordinary that needs to be addressed, your doctor will likely email or call you with these results.

But the same is true here; if you insist on receiving your blood work results telephonically or otherwise, the doctor needs to respect your wishes.

Key Questions to Ask About Your Test Results Once You Have Them

  • What do these results mean?
  • Are there any concerns about my test results? Is anything abnormal?
  • Do the results explain any of the symptoms I’ve been experiencing?
  • Am I at risk of developing any conditions?
  • What is the diagnosis – if any?
  • What may have caused this condition?
  • Will it be permanent?
  • How is this condition treated or managed?
  • What do I need to do? What changes do I need to make to my lifestyle?
  • How can I learn more about my condition?
  • Can I have a copy of the results?
  • Do I need to do a follow-up on these results?

The Increased Adoption of Patient Portals for Test Results

Many doctors’ practices, labs, and medical providers were already starting to give out test results electronically. In the wake of the pandemic, it’s almost standard procedure. Portals have become a central repository for lab results, where providers can upload results as soon as they come in. There is a security concern when it comes to patient information. But this is something your providers should ensure.

Portals streamline communication, make practice operations more efficient, and mean patients instantly receive their test results. Patients now have direct access to blood work, imaging reports, and even doctors’ notes.

This doesn’t mean patient portals are at the height of efficiency though. A study revealed that almost two-thirds of patients who received test results from a portal didn’t get any explanatory information. Nearly half of these patients then jumped onto Google, and many with abnormal results ended up calling their doctors. Another study found that while portals do help patients engage more with their healthcare, it also potentially increases anxiety.

But online portals do help ensure that patients receive their results and quickly too, with past studies showing that between 8% and 26% of abnormal lab results were not communicated to patients in a timely manner.

If you choose to access your results using a patient portal, be sure to get in touch with your doctor if you have any questions instead of making your own assumptions.

Related Read: Can Anti-Biotics Make You Tired?

Getting Results on Your Own

You can also obtain your results directly from the lab. In the United States, the lab test result data access rule guarantees all patients the right to access the results of tests performed by freestanding labs.

Doctors understandably have some concerns with this since abnormal test results often spark panic in patients who have yet to receive an explanation from their doctor. Patients should always wait for a provider to interpret the results before assuming the worst.

For instance, almost every blood test should be interpreted in relation to previous blood work results and current medicines, illnesses, and age. Lab companies can’t do that – since they don’t know the patient’s history – whereas a doctor can. And it’s also not something patients can Google.

In addition, while lab technicians are qualified, they cannot necessarily interpret the results and know what the next step is, which is often why some labs will hold onto results until doctors have had time to review them.

Test Results and Patient Rights

According to general guidelines from The American Medical Association, physicians should communicate clinical results to their patients in a “timely fashion” and be “considerate of patient concerns and anxieties”. As a patient, you should be given an idea of how the results will be conveyed, when the results will be ready, and what to do if they don’t hear back in the time frame.

Don’t assume that no news is good news. No news is simply no news. But take accountability – if you haven’t received your results after a reasonable amount of time, then you definitely should follow up with your doctor.

When it comes to getting test results, the entire process should be transparent, and patients should communicate their consent to each part of the process.

Related Read: The Differences Between Stomach Flu & Food Poisoning

What To Do If Your Doctor Withholds Results

As the patient, you’re entitled to know the results of your medical exams. All medical professionals are held to a high standard of medical care – this includes informing patients of the outcome of any medical test or examination. Your doctor should also inform you of the purpose of any medical exam and all dangers or side effects that might result from the exam.

One of the leading causes of medical misdiagnosis is the failure to communicate test results. Ultimately, communication of a diagnosis is just as important as the diagnosis itself.

According to the American Medical Association, withholding information without the patient’s knowledge or consent is ethically unacceptable, except in emergency situations where a patient is incapable of making an informed decision.

If your test results have been withheld from you, you should probably have a chat with your doctor and let them know you aren’t happy with your information being withheld from you. If they refuse to make amends and share your results with you, you can opt to report them to their superior or the Medical Board that regulates doctors where you live.

You may also be entitled to legal relief if you have incurred injuries or damages as a result of your doctors’ failure to communicate. And if your injury is severe, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Ultimately, It’s Your Information

When it comes to getting test results from your doctor, remember that this is your personal information. And as a patient, it should be accessible to you. In most cases, medical providers, practices, and hospitals determine their own policies for patient-provider communications. Many doctors who require a follow-up consultation to share test results have a reason to do so – and aren’t just trying to bill extra time. Medical professionals should be considerate of your time and concerns during every aspect of the process, from the initial test to conveying the test results to you.

It’s always best to communicate your expectations for receiving these test results upfront – if your doctor knows you prefer to get your results in person, they will schedule a follow-up visit. But if they are informed that you’d prefer to receive them via email or phone call, then they will likely accommodate you in this regard.


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.