Understanding Your Tests
When a test is ordered, you should find out why the test needs to be done, how it will be done, and what the physician 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 health care provider is the best person to look to for answers. No matter how brief the answers may be, asking your physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse is likely to provide you with the answer most specific to your situation. After you hear from them, you can get more details from a published source of information.
Of course, time constraints, your comfort in asking questions, and simply forgetting to ask the important questions will sometimes compel many patients to look elsewhere for this information. Fortunately, there are many other sources to turn to.
The medical technologist, technician, or phlebotomist can answer questions about how the sample is collected; this person may not, however, have the knowledge 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 on medical testing available so the staff can give you a quick answer or let you look it up yourself. Do not hesitate to ask about the resources available to you, either from your physician's office or the testing center.
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 Lab Tests Online. Through this service, you can obtain answers to your lab test-related questions from laboratory professionals - that is, the people who best understand the tests performed. You can access this service through the "Ask Us" tab found on most of the test descriptions on Lab Tests Online.