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Opinion 8.095 - Reporting Clinical Test Results: General Guidelines

To alleviate patients’ anxieties, physicians should report clinical test results to patients within a reasonable time frame. Since many variables contribute to the urgency of a particular situation, physicians should use their best professional judgment when determining what length of time is reasonable for the particular situation at hand. Anticipated delays should be explained to patients at the time of testing.

Physicians should adopt a consistent reporting policy that accommodates the demands of their practice while at the same time being considerate of patients’ anxieties. The reporting policy should be disclosed to patients, for instance when tests are administered, so patients know what to expect. Reporting policies should take into consideration under what circumstances (eg, all results, only abnormal results) and by whom (eg, the laboratory or the physician) test results are appropriately reported to the patient. Any anticipated inconsistencies should be disclosed to patients as soon as they are discovered.

Physicians should provide test results in language understandable to the patient and in the manner deemed most appropriate by the physician. Any information gathered from test results that would be necessary for patients to make intelligent medical decisions and give informed consent on future medical treatments must be disclosed to them.

Physicians should take all appropriate precautions to ensure the confidentiality of test results. Such precautions may include, but are not limited to, not leaving test results on an answering machine, on voice mail, or with a third party unless previously given permission to do so by the patient, not delivering test results via electronic mail, and not sending test results through the mail in any form other than a sealed envelope. (II, IV, V)

Issued December 1998 based on the report "Reporting Clinical Test Results: General Guidelines," adopted June 1998.