Missing, delayed, or incorrect test results are often blamed on a variety of factors: the number of different testing locations, the large number and variety of tests, and inconsistent reporting processes.
"This is primarily a workflow issue," Leiter said. "Especially in primary care settings, where doctors and their staff are incredibly busy, are managing multiple patients, and are often struggling to coordinate multiple dimensions of an individual's care, it can be difficult to be as responsive as patients want or need … Sometimes it just takes too long to wait for the mail or a call from your doctor or for the lab to deliver the results to the doctor—who then needs to interpret them and then have a staff member call the patient. It's not hard to see how things can fall through the cracks with that many steps."
Although Emkes says it is a doctor's duty to get test results to patients in a timely manner—when he was practicing he would call patients with results each night—he agrees that the process of communicating lab results is complex.
Doctors get results from a variety of sources—multiple labs and different hospitals and health systems, Emkes said. "And they're all in a different format and they're all in a different layout. It's really hard for me to pick up the abnormalities … because every one of those is formatted differently."
One solution to these problems can be found in health information exchanges, Emkes said.