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Communication systems for blood test results are ‘complex and confusing’, study finds

by Beth Gault
10 June 2022

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Systems to communicate the results of a blood test to patients are ‘complex and confusing’, which could have significant consequences for both patients and practices, according to a recent study.

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found that systems were mostly based on habits and routines ‘rather than clear protocols’, which had implications for patient centred care and safety.

It suggested that practices and local healthcare systems could employ ‘co-production methods’ to improve communication systems to ensure patients have access to results and can understand them in the future.

The small study interviewed 28 patients and 19 GPs across six practices with a range of socioeconomic and demographic characteristics between May 2019 and March 2020.

Methods of test result communication varied between doctors, according to the authors. But, these methods were ‘based on habits, unwritten heuristics, and personal preferences rather than protocols’.

The study said: ‘Doctors expected patients to know how to access their test results. In contrast, patients were often uncertain and used guesswork to decide when and how to access their tests.

‘Patients and doctors generally assumed that the other party would make contact, with potential implications for patient safety.’

The study also found that text messaging and online methods of communication were seen by some patients as ‘flippant’ or ‘confusing’, and that delays often led to anxiety among patients.

The authors concluded that practices have a ‘medico-legal and ethical responsibility to ensure they have clear, robust systems for communicating test results’.

‘New technologies may be incorporated into these systems but are not a panacea,’ the authors added.

‘Failure to ensure safe systems for communicating test results could have significant consequences for patients and practices.’

It comes after GP practices faced a shortage of blood bottles which led to restrictions on which blood tests GPs could do last year.

In August 2021, GPs were forced to stop non-urgent blood tests until 17 September. However, all restrictions were lifted in December.