Eight recommendations for policies for communicating abnormal test results

Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2010 May;36(5):226-32. doi: 10.1016/s1553-7250(10)36037-5.


Background: Health care organizations continue to struggle to ensure that critical findings are communicated and acted on in a timely and appropriate manner. Recent research highlights the risks of communication breakdowns along the entire spectrum of test-result abnormality, including significantly abnormal but nonemergent findings. Evidence-based and practical institutional policies must uphold effective processes to guide communication of abnormal test results. Eight recommendations for effective policies on communication of abnormal diagnostic test results were developed based on policy refinement at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Houston), institutional experience with test result management, and findings from research performed locally and elsewhere.

Key facets of effective policies: Research findings on vulnerabilities in existing policies and procedures were taken into consideration. The eight recommendations are based on important refinements to the policy which clarified staff roles and responsibilities for test ordering, follow-up, and communication; defined categories of abnormal test results to guide appropriate follow-up action; and elaborated procedures for monitoring the effectiveness of test result communication and follow-up. Participation of key stakeholders is recommended to enhance buy-in from personnel and to help ensure the policies feasibility and sustainability.

Conclusions: The proposed recommendations for ensuring safe test-result communication may be potentially useful to a wide variety of institutions and health care settings. These practical suggestions, based on research findings and experiences with a previous policy, may be a useful guide for designing or amending policies for safe test-result communication in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine*
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Organizational Policy*
  • Policy Making
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • United States