Sunday, January 23, 2011

Reduce Your Wait for Medical Results

You get a diagnostic medical test.

You then have to wait, often for unreasonable amounts of time, for the results. 

Each minute seems like an hour, and each hour seems like a lifetime. For you, time is suspended around one thing: the results.

The lab staff and other medical personnel tell you that it takes time for the test results to come in, that the diagnostics need to be sent to a lab in a faraway land, and that the doctor has a busy schedule.

Many in the medical field believe that patients waiting for results is just a part of the office protocol and you just have to hunker down, bite the bullet, keep the faith and a stiff upper lip, and wait for the doctor to get back to you when it is convenient for him or her.

So many patients comply with this nonsense, for a number of reasons, including feeling too intimidated by the medical system, wanting to be stoically brave, and thinking they have no options. I learned this the hard way when after being diagnosed with cancer (I got the results via phone from my doctor only two days after my biopsy), I then had to wait a week before finding out my prognosis.

And that wait was sheer mental anguish.

Frankly, waiting a long amount of time set by doctors (one week is too long, for example) is bogus. You have the right to know your test results quickly. Most results are in a lot sooner than medical staff would have you believe. With computers and databases, doctors can get results with the touch of a button. I have seen this with my own diagnostic test results.

Truth is, you have much more power than you think in getting the results on your timeline, not the medical personnel's:

Determine how long of a wait is acceptable to you. Hint: a week is too long.

Call the doctor's office and tell the staff that waiting a long time for test results is harmful to you psychologically and physically. Tell them you must know the results by a certain date.

If this method doesn't work, call the doctor's office repeatedly with the previously mentioned message. In short, make a pest of yourself. The goal is to speak with your doctor or another doctor as soon as possible about the test results.

Consider requesting the results by phone. This method isn't for everyone, but sometimes a phone call is better than waiting an entire week to see the doctor in person. You can still meet with your doctor in a week, but at least you will have your results.

Show up to the doctor's office without an appointment if you feel you are not making progress. Embarrass the staff in front of the other patients in the waiting room by telling the staff that you need the results on a timely basis. Shock value can work in your favor, and the staff might comply just to get rid of you.

Throughout the duration of the wait, do things that will relax you mentally and physically. For me, it was sketching and watching movies. Some people have their doctors prescribe Xanax. How each person handles the wait is different, so do whatever you can to cope.

One caveat: Throughout your self-advocacy, you do need to be as tactful as possible. However, you should be assertive, direct, and willing to overcome any fears to do what's right for you.

Remember, nobody can advocate in this arena better than you. All you need are courage, guts, perseverence, resilience, and passion for your cause.

Related topics on medical-related waiting and tools for dealing with them:

Readers: Have you had to wait too long for diagnostic results? If so, how did you handle it? I really would like to hear your story.

This posting is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Calling the Shots: Coaching Your Way Through the Medical System. To obtain these excerpts regularly, please subscribe to this blog by clicking the orange subscribe button. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at and Photobucket


  1. Beth, Interesting post here that conjures up many recent memories for me. First of all, I believe you can be as "pesty" as you want as long as you go about it in the right way. Just like with everything else, it's all in how you say, or in this case, ask it. I sat around waiting for my biopsy results all day (I was told they would call me that day) and finally had to track down my doctor myself. It turned out, he wasn't even in that day and had I not called myself, no one would have bothered to get in touch with me (I told them that was unacceptable) and of course, I was going crazy at home waiting. Plus, I had an oncology appt already in place for the next morning. I was livid. I did keep my cool, tracked a different doctor down, squeezed all the info I could out of him and then fell apart after I hung up!! That was my long answer I guess. Short answer, speak up for yourself and don't be forced to wait too long for answers. Great post, Beth.

  2. Nancy,

    Good for you in being persistent in tracking down a doctor! It's unfortunate that we patients sometimes have to do all the heavy work in order to get the answers we need. I'm so glad you got the upper hand in terms of getting the information you need, thanks to your persistence and courage!

    Thanks for your kind words about my post.

  3. Beth I am very grateful to you for this information.
    I am currently being treated in the 'public' - meaning Medicare - system. When my oncologist requested tests he first of all said he would call with the results. I looked at him and he stated 'not a good idea.' I then made an appointment which was changed owing to lack of funding. I had my tests today! I then went downstairs and spoke to my doctor's receptionist. Requested that he phone me asap with the results. Will be interesting to see what happens. For the first time ever, the tests reduced me to tears. I will write about that on my blog tomorrow. Thank you so much for this post.

  4. Chez,

    I'm so sorry the tests were so emotional for you. Trust me, I've been there.

    I'm glad you told the receptionist to have the doctor call you ASAP. I look forward to reading your next blog.

  5. I moved to a new area a few years ago, and just recently was forced to getting a doctor as I'm having all kinds of abdominal problems after eating. He ordered me 2 Upper GI with a small bowel follow through, and an ultrasound of the liver and gallbladder. They got me in for the UGI this past Monday. The radiologist didn't tell me a thing. They did the test and sent me on my way. Tomorrow is Thursday, and I'm dying to know the results. I think my doctor is waiting until next week, after I get my ultrasound. I'm still thinking about calling him. He also hasn't told me about my blood results I did the week prior. Bah...I hate this!

    1. Miller,

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Your situation isn't unique in terms of waiting. Unfortunately, medical personnel seem to have no qualms about making a patient wait. Frankly, I think it's ridiculous.

      It's up to you how you want to handle this, but if I were in your situation, I would call and generally make a pest of myself (but in a nice way). I would want an update sooner rather than later.

      Waiting is the hardest -- and oftentimes cruelest -- part. I hope everything works out well for you. I definitely recommend calling and expressing that you would like to know the status of your medical situation. You have a right to know sooner rather than later.