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Improve Results Reporting to Keep Patients Happy

Physician Entrepreneurs: The Quality Patient Experience, October 9, 2008

Following up on test results may be a procedural headache for your practice, but it is a highly emotional experience for patients and therefore pivotally important. Patients are often unclear about whether they will be notified or have to contact the medical practice for their results. Is no news good news—or does it mean that the practice forgot to follow up? This question causes unnecessary worry and even, at times, avoidable harm.

Despite this, less than one-third of physicians have a system that ensures rapid, reliable feedback of results. Many say, "Call me in a week for your results," leaving the responsibility entirely with the patient. Others intend to call patients only with abnormal results, but when these follow-up calls result in telephone tag or fall through the cracks, the patient may wrongly conclude that their results are normal.

Patients want and deserve to be notified of a questionable result. They appreciate calls or e-mails with good news, too. Whatever your patients' results, they expect your practice to follow-up with them responsibly. The data on related causes of malpractice claims substantiate the strength of this expectation among patients.

With manual tracking systems, results management software, and voicemail test result solutions readily available, physicians concerned about the patient experience can easily solve this challenge. The automated solutions make it particularly easy and efficient. For abnormal findings for instance, these systems can:

  • Review all chemistry, blood, imaging, and lab results ordered by clinicians and highlight abnormal findings.
  • Allow clinicians to see results alongside the patient's previous results, along with a list of the patient's current medications and problems.
  • Allow physicians to forward the results with notes to other clinicians involved in the patient's care. Users can also set reminders for repeated testing. Many systems have a fail-safe method of notifying physicians nightly via e-mail if critical results have not been reviewed by other clinicians or the patient.

Support between visits and over time also provides continuity greatly valued by patients, and it increases patient adherence. There are many ways to offer patients support:

  • The checkback call: Many physicians schedule time daily to make a few follow-up calls to patients. Others delegate the task to a nurse or nurse practitioner. Whether you tell the patient to expect a follow-up call or you surprise them with one, your call makes the patient feel important to you and earns you high marks.
  • The feedback call: With a feedback call, the physician or designee calls the patient with a test result or other relevant information. Patients resent it when their physician says, "Call me in two weeks for your result." Patients wonder why they have to: Why can't the doctor's office call? And if the patient forgets, so might the provider, which can easily lead to negative outcomes.
  • E-mail follow-up: Lately, as more consumers are computer savvy, e-mail is becoming the preferred mode for patient follow-up. Physicians and their staff can send follow-up e-mails at any time of the day or night and the patient will receive those messages whenever he or she signs into his or her e-mail account. E-mail eliminates telephone tag and means much better accessibility between patient and caregiver.

This article was adapted from Physician Entrepreneurs: The Quality Patient Experience, a new book published by HealthLeaders Media.