How Can I Understand My Test Results?
#RealLifeRx: Insight from Chief Medical Officer, Sharon Kiely
Sharon Kiely, MD, Senior Vice President, Medical Affairs & Chief Medical Officer
This post was inspired by a reader who had expressed interest in learning more about interpreting test results. Send a question to Dr. Kiely by clicking "Submit Question" below.
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There are nearly 7,000 languages in the world, but many would agree that “medical” language stands in a category of its own. Perhaps that is why medical training is so long a process. This begs the question: What can I do to have a clear idea of the meaning of my test results now and going forward?
You may have gotten a call from your doctor’s office indicating everything was normal followed by a copy of the results sent to you in the mail. You may also have a patient portal where you can see the results on the computer. Either way, most likely, you’re wondering what all these words, numbers, symbols and abbreviations mean. Also, if you do not get the results you should not assume it's "all okay." Here are a few ways to get the answers you need so you can partner with your doctor and truly take charge of your health.
1. Review your test results and think about questions you would like to ask.
Make an extra copy of your results—you’ll use this one for note-taking. Start by highlighting key areas you either don’t fully understand or would like to discuss further. From those highlights, think of any questions that come to mind. They may include:
-Should I start or stop medications or supplements or make changes to my diet according to these results?
-What’s the ideal number I should strive for? When should it be rechecked?
- I’m at the slightly low/high end of normal. Should I be worried? What might cause this result?
-Is there a specific time of day/month I should get blood drawn? When should results normally come back?
2. Call your doctors office and make an appointment
After you’ve taken the first step and jumped into the results, call your doctor’s office and let them know that you want to discuss your results. Depending on the practice, the options might include a phone appointment or an educational consultation with your physician’s nurse practitioner. Don’t be alarmed if the physician wants to see you to discuss the results. Also, remember to bring your marked-up copy of the results along with your questions so you can go over everything point by point. Take some notes so you remember what was discussed and bring someone with you if possible. A family member or friend can be a big help to you.
3. Next steps.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what the results mean, what you can do to improve these results and whether treatment such as lifestyle change, exercise, diet, vitamins or supplements may help, you are on your way. The most important thing is to be sure you’re clear on next steps to make that happen. For example, if your doctor recommends a diet, be sure you know what that means. You may benefit from a nutrition or dietary consultation. If a supplement is recommended such as Vitamin D or fish oil, ask about them. Finally, be certain that you know when to follow up with another test or a visit to the doctor.
About Dr. Kiely
Sharon Cabrina Kiely, MD, has over 30 years of experience caring for patients. She is board certified in Internal Medicine and has spent her career as a leader in medicine in hospitals, the classroom and administrative positions. Read more...