Physician Failure to Report Abnormal Test Results to Patients

A new study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine finds that, on average, physicians fail to report clinically significant abnormal test results to patients – or fail to document that they had informed them – in one out of every fourteen cases [1]. In some practices, the failure-to-inform rate is as high as one in five abnormal results.


Researchers at Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College analyzed 5,434 patient records from 23 physician practices across the country, selecting 11 blood tests and 3 screening tests (mammography, Papanicolaou smear and fecal occult blood) commonly performed in the outpatient setting. They consulted with physicians in the appropriate specialties to define a range of clinically significantly abnormal values for each test. For each abnormal result then identified, the scientists searched the patient’s medical record for 13 types of events that occurred in most cases within 90 days suggesting that the patient had been informed. These events included a note stating that the patient had been informed, a repeat of the abnormal test or if a consultation or procedure was performed.