Laboratory testing is a common medical procedure that is used to diagnose a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Almost everyone will require lab testing at some point in their lives, whether it’s to check for the presence of a viral or bacterial infection, or to screen for a more serious condition.
Although the majority of lab tests are quick and easy, some patients struggle with feelings of reluctance and uncertainty when their physician orders a test. In some cases, they may have a fear of needles and having their blood drawn; in others, they may not understand why the test is being ordered, or what the results could mean for their future.
Below, we have compiled tips to help patients get the most out of their laboratory testing.
Understand Why the Test is Being Ordered
Certain lab tests are considered routine, and are often included as part of an annual physical exam. These tests are used to evaluate your general health over time, and are an important tool in tracking any changes.
Other lab tests are used to screen for diseases in people who do not yet display any symptoms. Some screening tests are recommended on a yearly basis or every few years, such as Pap smears for women older than 21, and colorectal screening for men over 50.
Other screening tests are not recommended unless you meet certain criteria, such as family history or previous medical history that increases your risk. Lastly, some tests are used to diagnose or rule out diseases based on symptoms the patient is experiencing, or to monitor treatment of those diseases.
When your doctor orders a lab test, take the time to understand which category your test falls into. What information does your physician expect to gain from this test, and how could the results impact your course of medical care?
Prepare for Your Test Accordingly
Some lab tests may require you to fast or make other preparations in order to ensure an accurate result. Ask your doctor to explain any best practices or guidelines before testing.
For instance, do you need to avoid certain foods, beverages, medications, or strenuous exercise? Not following the recommended guidelines could trigger a false negative or false positive, meaning you and your physician will receive inaccurate results.
Ask Your Doctor to Explain Your Lab Test Results
Some lab results are shown as a simple “positive” or “negative” result. A positive result means the lab found what your physician was testing for, and a negative result means the lab did not find the substance or disease. Another way to look at these results is that “positive” indicates an abnormal result, whereas “negative” indicates a normal result.
Other lab results are shown as a series of numbers, which can be compared to another set of numbers called the reference range, or normal values. If your numbers fall outside the reference range, this is considered an abnormal result, and may indicate the presence of a disease or condition.
Ask your physician to review the results in-depth with you, to ensure you fully understand their significance. Are any of the results abnormal, and if so, how far outside of the reference range are they? What do these results signify about any possible conditions you might have? If you have undergone lab testing in the past, how do the new results compare to previous results?
Is there any further testing you can do to gain further clarity about your health? What if you have a normal result, but are still concerned about your symptoms? If the results are abnormal and a disease is suspected, what is the standard course of treatment?
Request Copies of Your Lab Results
Laboratory results are a critical insight into the state of your health at a given moment in time. Requesting copies of your lab results will be an enormous benefit if you move to a new city, change healthcare providers, schedule an appointment with a specialist, or need to visit the emergency room.
Additionally, keeping copies of your test results can be useful for researching any conditions you may have, and can empower you to take your health into your own hands.
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