Understanding Your Test Results
Your GP record is primarily written to help medical staff look after you. This means that sometimes you may not understand everything you see as it is a vehicle for medical professionals to communicate their clinical thoughts to each other contemporaneously. We have shared this information to help patients understand their test results but, if you have any further questions, please speak to a member of our team.
It is important to learn what’s ‘normal for you’, this is particularly important if you have a long-term illness, as your results may be different to other people’s.
Significant things to consider about your results:
- A test result outside the range may not indicate a problem, these are just reference ranges.
- Equally, if all results are within the reference range, this does not completely guarantee there isn’t a concern.
- Not all results are returned to us at the same time, we may be waiting for further results before contacting you.
- Comments may have been added automatically by a laboratory computer or by a laboratory scientist or doctor. Generally, comments are written for the doctor requesting the test rather than the patient and so they may not be very meaningful to you.
- It is important to follow the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional. Always look out for our comments attached to results. Often these have critical information about the test and how to interpret the result. We have included below an explanation of some of the comments you may commonly see on your results.
Where are the reference ranges (normal ranges) for tests?
The reference ranges for your tests can be found on your laboratory report. They are typically found to the right of your results. These are standardised reference ranges but they will not apply to everyone. They do not take into account things like your gender, age, ethnicity or health conditions. The reference ranges mean a computer may flag a result as out of range or abnormal but for you this might be a normal result. Whilst the ranges are helpful, it is important to follow the advice of the doctor who interprets the result.
What does it mean if my result is outside the reference range?
Your test results are interpreted by your health care provider within the context of other tests that you have completed. These results are also measured against other factors like your medical history. The medical significance of a single result that is slightly high or slightly low may be difficult to determine. This is why a doctor may repeat a test and why they may look at results from your previous tests. However, a result outside the reference range may indicate a problem and warrant further investigation. Your doctor will evaluate your test results in the context of other relevant factors and determine whether a result that falls outside of the reference range presents a significant issue.
If my results are normal, does that mean I have nothing to worry about?
If your results are within normal limits it’s certainly a good sign. But one set of tests offers a snapshot of certain aspects of your health rather than a guarantee. There is a lot of overlap among results from healthy people and those with diseases so there is still a chance that there could be an undetected problem. If you’re trying to follow a healthy lifestyle, take test results that are within range as a good sign, and keep it up. However, normal results do not mean that unhealthy habits will not have consequences in the future. Your health care provider may want to monitor you with a series of tests to make sure you’re still on track and to document any trends. A rise or drop in results, even if they are still within normal limits, could provide meaningful information.
If my result is abnormal, does that mean I have a problem with my health?
Not necessarily. A test result outside the reference range may signal to your doctor to further investigate your condition but it may or may not indicate a specific problem. You can have a value outside the range and have nothing wrong with you. It is possible that your result is within that 5% of healthy people who fall outside the statistical reference range. In addition, there are many things that could throw off a test without indicating a major problem, such as not preparing for the test properly. Your doctor may want to rerun the test. Some abnormal results may resolve on their own, especially if they are on the border of the reference range. Your doctor may also want to seek explanations for an abnormal result. Key points your doctor will consider include how far outside of the reference range the results are and whether repeated tests also produce abnormal results.
I have had a blood test or dropped a sample at the practice, but what happens now?
Blood tests and other samples have to be sent away to a hospital laboratory for analysis. An NHS courier collects samples from us each day in the early afternoon.
- When you discuss having tests with your doctor or nurse it’s important to understand, at the time, what the plan is to follow these up. A lot of tests are routine and for monitoring but, if your health care provider is investigating something new for example, you may discuss booking an appointment to follow these results upon an appropriate timescale.
- If, when the result returns to the practice, your result needs urgent action we will contact you by phone to discuss what action needs to be taken.
- If your result needs action, but not urgently, we will contact you within an appropriate timescale to explain what action needs to be taken.
- If your result is normal, or if the doctor has some information for you following your test we may send this by text message.
- If you need to discuss your result with a doctor or nurse, please ask the receptionist to take a message for the doctor or nurse. They will either telephone you or you will be asked to make an appointment to see them.
Why does the result take so long?
The person who asked you to have your test or the person who took your test will tell you approximately how long it will be for your test to be analysed. Most tests are analysed within 1 week, however, there are certain tests which require several weeks to be analysed. If you have a urine test, it may take several days to grow the bacteria and see which antibiotic will work.
What Do The Doctor’s Comments Mean?
When your doctor reviews and files your result in the electronic record they will leave a comment, primarily from a set of selectable options, but may free text a comment if this is required. A breakdown of common comments are:
Tell patient result/normal – no action
This means that the doctor has looked at the result and deemed it to be within a normal range for you and no further investigation or treatment is needed.
Discuss with requesting GP
The doctor would like to speak to you routinely, unless otherwise specified, to explain the result(s). The doctor may ask for this to be in person or by telephone. They may also recommend you see the nurse.
Tell patient stable – no action
The doctor has looked at the result and deemed them stable and the result is not concerning. This will be in the context of you as an individual and when compared to previous results. We will continue to monitor and the doctor will tell you if you need a repeat test in the future.
Tell patient acceptable – no action
This means that the doctor has looked at the result and deemed it to be just outside of the normal range and the result is not concerning and is OK for you.
Tell patient abnormal but expected – no action
The doctor has looked at the result and it may be outside of the normal range but, for example, is acceptable in the context of the clinical situation or when seen as part of the bigger picture.
Appointment with treatment room
Small fluctuations in test results are common and slightly abnormal results usually return to normal without the need for treatment. The GP would like to check your result has returned to normal or remained stable. We will tell you how long you should wait before rechecking your blood test. The timescale is often important and, if at all possible, adhered to as closely as practicable.
Discussed with patient or Patient informed
The doctor has already discussed this result with you.
Seen and dealt with
The doctor has already seen you and has dealt with any issues that arose.
Has appointment to discuss
You already have an appointment booked with the doctor, during which they will discuss the results with you. There is no need to contact us before then as the result is not urgent.
On correct treatment
The doctor started you on a medicine and the results of your test show this is the correct treatment. There is no reason to change current treatment according to test results.
Unfortunately, very occasionally, samples are lost or damaged. Sometimes there is a delay in samples reaching the laboratory which can affect the quality of the specimen making it unusable. On other occasions an incorrect bottle or label may have been used. Occasionally an incorrect test is requested in which case a repeat may not be needed. The doctor will usually ask you to repeat the test.
Referred to practice pharmacist
Our practice pharmacist will contact you to discuss the result. This is usually because your result has indicated we should make changes to your medications or start a new medicine.
Disclaimer – information and web links within this document are correct at time of writing. Although the content of this document will be reviewed regularly no responsibility will be taken by the author for future inaccuracy. If in any doubt, discuss health concerns with a health professional.