Results Are In? Phone Them, Please

You come in for a CT, an MRI, or some other medical procedure. You wear the gown, you do your time in the tube, then you get dressed and go home wondering “I wonder what they found”. For some, the question doesn’t remain unanswered for long. For others, especially those waiting for more critical responses, that answer could take weeks. I remember the day my friend’s mom went in for her biopsy. They’d discovered a mass in her breast during a previous MRI scan, and decided to do a biopsy to see if it was cancerous. I remember them telling her it would be two weeks before everything would be tested and her doctor had an open time available to sit down and read her the results.

I remember wondering how she’d manage to wait that long, and thinking that for someone who’s about to find out whether or not they have cancer, two weeks must feel like a lifetime to wait.

According to studies from UC San Francisco’s Dr. Maria Wei and colleagues, I wasn’t too far off. Traditionally the standard has been to deliver biopsy results in person, because doctors felt like it was a more personal way to deliver difficult news. What this meant, though, was that patients had to wait long after the results were in to actually schedule an appointment and receive the news.

Wei and her colleagues have surveyed patients at melanoma clinics around the country about whether or not they preferred the traditional way of delivering test results, and they found that now more than ever, patients want to know the news as soon as they possibly can.

It’s agonizing sitting around and waiting for something that could be potentially life changing, and patients are starting to admit that rather than sitting down with a doctor, they’d prefer to be informed of their test results over the phone as soon as the information is made available to their doctor.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that many centers are hoping to embrace. Dr. Jennifer Stein, a dermatologist at NYU School of Medicine, noted that “As generations change and as technology changes, we may be more moving in that direction. Asking a patient how they want to receive information can be really illuminating.”