Risk Management

Test Management System is Key to Prompt Diagnosis

Anne M. Menke, RN, PhD, OMIC Risk Manager

Digest, Spring 2013

The OMIC claims database includes cases where ophthalmologists needed to take prompt, decisive action but failed to do so. At times, physicians did not appreciate the emergent nature of the patient’s condition. Other times, physicians appeared to be on the right track but did not pursue the diagnostic process to completion by obtaining, reviewing, communicating, and following up on the results of diagnostic tests. This article will review the role other members of the health care team can play in helping maintain a robust test management system.

 What is the best way to ensure that test results on hospitalized patients are reported to me promptly?

A  Do not assume that the laboratory technician or nurse knows which tests need to be done urgently or which results you consider to be clinically significant. Give adequate information on the test order to guide the lab or imaging department, and provide ways to reach you both during and after office hours. Inform the nurse caring for the patient of your diagnosis, its consequences, and planned studies. Instruct the nurse to contact you as soon as the results are available. Include in your written order any symptoms that should be reported to you as well. “Mr. Avery has had more bleeding than expected. I am ordering a CT to check for intraocular bleeding. I will be performing surgery on another patient, but please contact me as soon as the results are in, and please watch the patient for any signs of increased bleeding, such as….” If the hospital has an electronic health record, be sure the alert system is on and you respond to any alerts that appear. Ask the circulating nurse in the OR to watch for these alerts if you are performing surgery.

Q   I have a small practice and we do not have an electronic health record (EHR). How can my staff help track tests?

A   Offices without EHR have created an effective tracking system using a simple Excel spreadsheet. Ask your front office staff to review your exam record or super bill for any tests and to enter each one into the Excel spreadsheet. Assign a staff member to check the tracking sheet daily and weekly and to contact the laboratory or consulting physician if results are not received in the expected time. If the patient did not present for the test or consultation, ask staff to contact the patient to determine why and report back to you for follow-up instructions.

Q   May my staff member review the results?

A   Your staff member may help by conducting an initial review and sorting the results, but you are expected to review and sign all reports and to arrange for another ophthalmologist to conduct the review when you are out-of-town. Normal results may be placed in a folder for you to sign and review at the end of the day; a copy of the results can be mailed to the patient and the original filed in the medical record with the notation “mailed to patient on [date].” The Excel spreadsheet can be updated to indicate “normal results, patient notified, no follow up.” It is helpful to send a document explaining the reason for the test and the meaning of the results. Abnormal results need careful handling. Staff should receive training and be provided with a written protocol on how to manage them. The protocol should identify test values that need a prompt response, such as those the laboratories have identified as critical or those you have determined to be clinically significant. Thank staff each time you are notified of such results to encourage them to interrupt you for these important messages.

Q   How can I be sure that patients are notified of results?

A  There are two methods that work well, especially when used together. While busy practices might prefer to only notify patients of abnormal results, patient safety experts agree that it is best to inform them of all results. One method is to inform patients of tests to be completed and ask them to address an envelope to be used to send them their results. Patients then know to watch for the results and have provided their most current contact information. Patients are asked to call the practice if they have not received the self-addressed envelope within a specified period of time. Another method, which ensures that test results are incorporated into the treatment plan, is to instruct staff to schedule a follow-up appointment for any patient referred out for testing or consultation so the results can be shared. Insist that the appointment be scheduled before the patient leaves the office so the patient is part of the appointment tracking system. When pulling records for the next day, ask staff to confirm that results from tests and consultations have been received. If not, have staff call to obtain them.


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