If any of your medical tests came back with abnormal results, would your doctor automatically tell you? Not necessarily, says a new study. Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City found that more than 7 percent of doctors did not notify patients of abnormal test results.

First, researchers reviewed over 5,400 medical charts and examined past X-rays of people who had abnormal tests. Then they questioned doctors who did not inform their patients of the test results. Some physicians responded that patients had been informed but it was not documented. Some docs felt the results were not serious enough to warrant informing patients. Yet others said they intended to inform patients but had not yet done so. And some cases were ambiguous.

In the end, the researchers concluded that out of 1,889 abnormal test results, docs neglected to tell 135 patients the news.

The study suggested that, if followed, these procedures would minimize test result errors:

  • Results are routed to the responsible doctor
  • The doctor signs off on them
  • The office informs patients of all results
  • The doctor or office documents that patients have been informed
  • Patients are told to call after a certain time interval if they have not learned the results of their tests

“Don't assume that ‘no news is good news' when you have tests done. That's a very dangerous assumption,” warns Lawrence P. Casalino, MD, the study's lead author. “If you've had a test done and you don't hear about it after a week or two goes by, call the doctor's office.”