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Wednesday, December 31, 2008 9:00 AM
Navigating Health Care: Getting Medical Tests: Ask Questions!

Rand: Your doctor orders a blood test or X-ray and you don’t really understand why. Do you ask? AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy says it’s important to speak up and ask questions, so you get the best results from your health care.

Dr. Clancy: It’s important to discuss with your clinician ahead of time why the test is being done and how accurate it’s likely that the results will be. For example, sometimes a test is done for the purpose of answering a "yes or no" question, "do you have a specific condition" and the test results will be very reliable. You can be reassured if the answer is "no" and know what’s going to happen next if the result is positive. Other times tests are the first in a series of steps to try to find out precisely what’s going on.

Rand: Besides understanding why I need the test, what are some other reasons I might need to ask questions?

Dr. Clancy: To help make sure you get the most accurate test results, it’s important to follow all the directions as they’re given to you, and it may be important for you to know which lab that you’re going to be going to ahead of time, and if they have any specific requirements or recommendations for steps that you need to take before you come in for the test.

Rand: So what kinds of questions should I be asking?

Dr. Clancy: You need to know how the test is going to be done. Is this going to be a straightforward blood test? Is it just going to be something where your finger is pricked? Is it some kind of breathing test? What exactly will be happening to you? Do you need to do any preparation ahead of time, or will there be some potential side effects which might mean that you couldn’t go back to work right away?

Rand: Is there any thing else I can do to be safe when I have a medical test done?

Dr. Clancy: Another step that you can do is when you go in to get tests, there will be labels with your name for specimen tubes, for papers that are being sent to the laboratory or to the x-ray facility, and so forth. It’s very important to make sure that your specimens actually have your name on the particular tube or pieces of paper and so forth.

Rand: So I’ve had my test. What happens next?

Dr. Clancy: It’s very important that you know the results of any test that you have done even if you see a clinician who is of the "no news is good news" school of thought. By making sure that you know the results, you will also be reassured that the results didn’t get lost and that no news really meant that no results or information was passed on rather than the right results were obtained. You can absolutely get a copy of your test results to keep and many clinicians do this routinely. Others will be delighted to do so if you ask. I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy and that’s my advice on how to navigate the health care system.

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