Test result communication in primary care: clinical and office staff perspectives

Fam Pract. 2014 Oct;31(5):592-7. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmu041. Epub 2014 Jul 28.


Objective: To understand how the results of laboratory tests are communicated to patients in primary care and perceptions on how the process may be improved.

Design: Qualitative study employing staff focus groups.

Setting: Four UK primary care practices.

Participants: Staff involved in the communication of test results.

Findings: Five main themes emerged from the data: (i) the default method for communicating results differed between practices; (ii) clinical impact of results and patient characteristics such as anxiety level or health literacy influenced methods by which patients received their test result; (iii) which staff member had responsibility for the task was frequently unclear; (iv) barriers to communicating results existed, including there being no system or failsafe in place to determine whether results were returned to a practice or patient; (v) staff envisaged problems with a variety of test result communication methods discussed, including use of modern technologies, such as SMS messaging or online access.

Conclusions: Communication of test results is a complex yet core primary care activity necessitating flexibility by both patients and staff. Dealing with the results from increasing numbers of tests is resource intensive and pressure on practice staff can be eased by greater utilization of electronic communication. Current systems appear vulnerable with no routine method of tracing delayed or missing results. Instead, practices only become aware of missing results following queries from patients. The creation of a test communication protocol for dissemination among patients and staff would help ensure both groups are aware of their roles and responsibilities.

Keywords: Diagnostic tests; medical errors/patient safety; practice management; primary care; qualitative research/study; quality of care..

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administrative Personnel
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Communication*
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine*
  • Focus Groups
  • General Practice / organization & administration*
  • Health Literacy
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nurses
  • Patients / psychology
  • Physician's Role
  • Physicians
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Telephone
  • Text Messaging