Aims: There is still debate as to whether the addition of interpretative comments to laboratory reports can influence the management of patients. Little is known about the extent of this activity in individual laboratories throughout the UK and so this national survey aimed to establish the prevalence.
Methods: An electronic questionnaire was sent to 196 NHS laboratories in the UK asking whether 17 commonly requested groups of tests were reported with interpretative comments and, if so, how laboratory computers and/or humans were involved in the process. Enquiries were also made of the grades of staff performing the process and of any 'vignette' examples where interpretative reporting had improved the clinical outcome for the patient.
Results: A total of 138 of the 196 laboratories (70%) responded. Only two laboratories did not have staff adding interpretative comments to any of the 17 tests. Consultant laboratory staff reporting predominated in all tests with a significant minority also being added by biomedical scientists. High-volume requests usually had staff adding comments to results selected by computer rules whereas more of the specialist endocrine tests tended to be considered for comment. Only six of 71 vignettes referred specifically to 'routine' biochemistry.
Conclusions: The addition of interpretative comments onto clinical biochemistry reports is widespread throughout the UK. This service is largely consultant led. There is anecdotal evidence that the process can influence the clinical management of patients.