June 13, 2024

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Getting Test Results Quickly by Phone Call or Appointment

8 min read

If you’ve recently had a medical test, such as blood work, you may wonder when to expect a call from your healthcare provider and how quickly you’ll receive results.

The turnaround time for test results can depend on the type of test and why your doctor ordered it. Healthcare providers sometimes ask you to make an appointment to get the results of routine medical tests, especially when you’re waiting for a new diagnosis or you’re monitoring a chronic illness. Other times, you may be given the results by a phone call, telehealth, or online patient portal.

This article will look at how long it takes to get certain blood test results. It also covers when you might need an appointment to discuss results, when you don’t, and what questions to ask your healthcare provider.

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Getting Results for Common Blood Tests

After you get a blood test, the turnaround time for results can depend on the type of test and where the lab is based. If you’re a patient in a hospital, test results from the hospital lab will usually take less time than an outside lab.

You may or may not be asked to come in for an in-person appointment depending on the type of test and why it’s being done. For routine tests, you might receive a phone call or letter, or you may be able to access results through your patient portal.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

A complete blood count measures the different parts of your blood, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, to detect different conditions like anemia and blood cancers.

CBC results are typically given to your healthcare provider by the following day. You may get a phone call or the results may be available on your online patient portal.

Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP)

A basic metabolic panel (BMP) gives information about your body’s electrolytes, fluid levels, kidney health, and blood sugar.

BMP results are usually available by the next day. Your healthcare provider may call you or post the results on your online patient portal.

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP)

A comprehensive metabolic panel gives the same information as a BMP test in addition to information about your liver function and protein tests.

CMP results may be available after a few business days. You may get results from your healthcare provider by phone, mail, or through your online patient portal.

Lipid Panel

A lipid panel measures total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides to help determine your risk of heart disease.

Lipid panel results may be available the next day. You may get results from your healthcare provider by phone or through your online patient portal.

Thyroid Panel

The thyroid panel checks levels of hormones such as TSH and T4 in the blood. This helps determine how well the thyroid gland is working and diagnose any thyroid conditions.

Thyroid panel results usually take a few days. Your healthcare provider may have you come in for a follow-up appointment to get your results. They may also call you or put the information on your online patient portal.

Cancer

Blood tests can be ordered to detect leukemia (cancer of the blood cells). They can also detect chemicals and proteins in your blood that could indicate different types of cancer.

Results for these blood tests may take a week or more. You may get results through an in-person appointment or a phone call with your healthcare provider.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Blood tests can help detect STIs such as HIV, syphilis, and herpes. Some of these blood tests, including HIV and herpes, look for antibodies that your body makes in response to the infection.

The turnaround time for the results may vary. For some rapid HIV tests, it may take just a few minutes. Other tests can take up to one to two weeks. You may have an in-person follow-up appointment or your healthcare provider may call you with the results.

Test Results Given by Phone Call

In some cases, an in-person appointment isn’t all that necessary for getting results. Often, routine blood or imaging tests are part of preventive care. That includes things like cholesterol tests, mammograms, or Pap smears.

If results are normal, they can usually be delivered via a phone call. If results are abnormal, your healthcare provider may call you and ask to set up a separate follow-up appointment.

While healthcare providers can deliver results by phone, they have to verify it’s you to ensure that they’re not violating HIPAA privacy laws. They can also leave a voicemail message requesting you return the call.​ At a previous appointment, you may have been asked to sign a form verifying that they have your permission to leave a message.

Test Results Given in Person

Sometimes your healthcare provider will want to meet with you in person to discuss your results, whether it’s blood work, a biopsy, or other medical tests. Even if the news is “good,” it may be important for them to explain what the results do and don’t mean. The test results may be simple and straightforward—say, positive or negative. Or they may be more nuanced or open to interpretation.

Your healthcare provider may have ordered tests to provide a diagnosis. Or they may want to monitor a condition, including tracking its progress or checking for a recurrence.

Getting test results may prompt new questions, which you can ask at this appointment.

Initial Diagnosis

News of a new diagnosis should usually be given face-to-face. That’s because your health is at risk in some way. That could be from an infection, cancer, genetic disorder, or chronic health condition like heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

An appointment gives you an opportunity to talk about:

  • The diagnosis
  • What it means
  • Your treatment options

It can also help avoid confusion over what the results mean. Sometimes you need to know more than just “positive” or “negative.”

For example, if you test negative for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), you may assume you don’t have it. All it really means, though, is that the test didn’t detect the virus. You may have just been tested too early—before your immune system had a chance to make the antibodies the test detects.

At an appointment, your healthcare provider can explain options and tell you whether more testing is needed.

Plus, if a disease is contagious, your provider will want to talk in person about how to help you avoid future risks and protect other people.

Monitoring Chronic Illness

With chronic illness, follow-ups are often necessary to monitor the illness or see if a treatment is working.

For example, if you have prediabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), you may not need treatment right away. The first steps may be to use diet and exercise to stop or reverse the disease.

Follow-up labs can tell you whether your strategies are working. Meeting in person to go over results helps you both see what’s happening and figure out why. It’s also an opportunity to discuss starting treatment.

If you’re taking medications for chronic conditions, regular in-person appointments can help you stick to the treatment regimen. You can also discuss side effects and dosage changes that may be needed.

For diseases that can relapse, such as cancer and some autoimmune diseases, regular visits may help identify and treat a relapse early.

It is always okay to ask your healthcare provider about treatment guidelines or why a test or appointment is being recommended.

Test Results Given via Telehealth

Telehealth appointments may be a good compromise between delivering results in person versus a phone call, letter, or secure message. You still have to pay for it, but it can save you a lot of time.

Telehealth appointments allow you to meet with your healthcare provider over a video chat rather than an in-person appointment. Your healthcare provider might suggest this option if you’ve tested positive for an infectious disease, such as COVID-19, to limit the spread of the virus.

However, there may be some instances where you will need an in-person appointment instead. For instance, you may not be able to have a telehealth appointment if your healthcare provider needs you to have more tests done, or if they need to perform a physical examination.

Test Results Available via Patient Portal

Practices can send electronic messages (or post results to a patient portal) if they have a secure means of doing so. They’re an easy way to view detailed test results as soon as they’re available.

While having access to your electronic medical records can ensure that you receive results, it may cause anxiety for those who get an abnormal result without a phone call. Your healthcare provider may prefer to send you a message about normal results through the patient portal and call you with abnormal results.

If your healthcare provider uses a patient portal, ask them about how you’ll be receiving results and when you should check the patient portal.

Setting Expectations

When first meeting with a new healthcare provider, ask about their test result policies. In some cases, they want you to get tested a week or two before an appointment. Or you may be tested during or after your appointment and get the results later.

If you’re tested during or after your appointment, ask:

  • Do all test results require a follow-up appointment?
  • How long does it take to get the test results?
  • Does your staff contact patients regardless of results?
  • If results are shared by phone, letter, or online patient portal, how does the office ensure they will only be shared with me or my designees?

Be wary of any office that says they only contact you “if there is a problem.” First, you have the right to see the results of every test you undergo. Second, mistakes happen. You won’t know whether you’re fine or the results were somehow lost or not properly communicated to you.

You can also:

  • Ask when the results will be ready and call that day or the next.
  • Make a follow-up appointment beforehand if the results might be something you need to discuss. 
  • Double-check that the imaging center or lab has your provider’s correct information on file.

Remember there are many reasons why a healthcare provider will contact you after a medical test. If results are concerning, they may call you or have a receptionist call to schedule an appointment. A healthcare provider may also call to assure you everything is okay or discuss any needed follow-up tests.

Summary

The turnaround time for test results depends on the type of test, the location of the lab, and whether you need a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider.

Your healthcare provider may suggest a follow-up appointment to go over test results. This could be if you’re just being diagnosed or monitoring a chronic illness.

Your healthcare provider could also call or send a message through the online patient portal to let you know the results. You probably don’t need an appointment for preventive tests or if your condition is well-controlled.

Ask your healthcare provider about how test results will be delivered. If follow-up appointments are expected, check with your health insurance to make sure they’re covered.

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