Undergoing an unfamiliar medical procedure can be stressful when your experience does not match your expectations. Knowing what will happen is a good way to maintain composure.
Understanding why a lab test has been ordered can improve your attitude and preparation for the test. Being well prepared also helps you feel more relaxed and in control of the situation. Ask your healthcare practitioner to explain the reasons for your test, how the test will be conducted, and what he or she expects to learn from it. Here are some questions to ask:
- Why does this test need to be done? How could it change the course of my care?
- What do I need to know or do before the test?
- What happens during and after the test?
- How much will the test hurt or be an inconvenience? What are its risks?
- How long will the test take? When will results be available?
- Where do I need to go to take the test? Is there a "good" time to schedule the test?
- What are normal results? What do abnormal results mean?
- What factors may affect the results?
- What course of action may be next, after the test?
Your healthcare provider is the best person to look to for answers to these questions since he or she will be most familiar with your situation. Of course, time constraints, your comfort in asking questions, and simply forgetting to ask a certain question sometimes compel patients to look elsewhere for this information. Fortunately, there are other reliable sources to turn to for additional information:
- The medical laboratory scientist, technician, or phlebotomist [see the article Who's Who in the Lab] can answer questions about how the sample is collected. This person may not, however, have the information needed to fully answer your questions about what the test is for, how results are interpreted, and what happens next. Because many patients ask these questions during the sampling procedure, some facilities have books or pamphlets on medical testing available as a resource to staff and patients so do not hesitate to ask about the resources available to you.
- Other information sources, such as this web site, are available online, as are a number of free services. One such service is the Consumer Information Response Service provided by ASCLS, one of the laboratory associations in partnership with AACC's Lab Tests Online. Through this service, you can obtain answers to your lab test-related questions from laboratory professionals. You can access this service through the "Ask a Laboratory Scientist" feature found at the end of test articles.
- The following are resources that provide information on how to evaluate a health web site to determine if it can be trusted: