To the Editor:
When I had my own practice, we put the highest emphasis on tracking and informing patients of test results, as “Four Principles for Better Test-Result Tracking” [July/August 2002, page 41] recommends.
For every test, imaging study and specialty consultation ordered, we used simple, multipart forms to create a copy of the order for a tickler file. We organized the file according to when we expected the results back. When the reports arrived, we matched them with the form in the tickler file and destroyed the tickler form. Any unmatched forms meant there was a test result to track down.
I never liked the ambiguity of the “no news is good news” approach. Patients never knew whether “no news” meant the results were normal or the office had just forgotten to contact them. To solve this problem, we printed postcards with “Your recent tests were normal” on one side and our return address and a place for the patient’s address on the other side. We told patients that we would contact them once all their test results were back, and we had them address the postcard if they wanted one mailed. This gave us implied consent to send test results on a postcard. Patients were also given instructions to call if the postcard didn’t arrive by a particular date. We called patients whose test results were not normal.
These two systems worked exceedingly well. We never had a patient complain, and I feel confident that we never lost a test result.