a woman trying to get to a folder filled with scans and notes

The Confusion of How and Where to Get Test Results

Last updated: January 2023

I recently needed to get both a cervical MRI and knee x-rays. For better or worse, I asked for the reports so that I could have them for my records and take them with me to any other doctors who are part of my care team.

You may ask, "Why not have the imaging location send them?"  Well, I do, but somehow it never seems to get shared amongst themselves in terms of any type of discussion or treatment options.

Too many records systems and confusing language

Additionally, my various health providers all seem to use different labs, patient portals, and imaging locations. I counted how many applications/websites I have on my phone/laptop to gain access to my records and it shocked me. I have over a dozen! Oftentimes, I do not know which physician uses which lab/imaging group, etc., so it just becomes a guessing game until I hit the right one.

I naively thought that the language in the impressions/report summary section would be written in both a way I could comprehend and in a universal language so I could at least compare from 1 year to the next.  I was wrong.  Each place/radiologist has their own way of "speaking" and no 2 are alike. Even with the reports side by side, they did not correlate in any way that made sense to me.

Treatment advice for RA is unclear or nonexistent

In addition, when the nurse calls me to relay my results, unless it is the most basic information, it is not very useful. This was the case with both my knee and cervical spine images. After 2 minutes of rattling off some medical lingo, I still had no idea if things were better, worse, or the same as the previous images. 

I also had to ask what the recommendation was for treatment. Should I get physical therapy? Are we looking at pain management options? Is this inflammatory? Should I be looking at a future joint replacement? Cortisone shots? How about a follow-up visit to discuss these options?

A few things I do now to access test results

So, to counter some of these annoying and frustrating issues, I do a few things differently.

Ask for a copy to be sent directly. When a physician’s office calls to tell me the results, I make sure to ask for a copy to either be sent to me via email or to put it on their portal so I can access it promptly. At least I have it in my possession so if I am seeing another physician, I can bring it along and not have to wait and hope they can access my results.

Create a personal account on lab portals. I found out I could have my own account on any lab or imaging site, aside from the patient portals that my physicians use. So now I have direct access within 24 hours to any and all of my tests and images. I don’t have to wait for them to put results up on their portals — you can just go to the lab website and open your own account with easy access to all of your results. So, if several of your physicians use the same lab, as is often the case, you can see all of the results. This is so much better than having to open each medical practice’s patient portal to obtain test results.

Ask what the results really mean. When they call with my results, I am prepared to ask what these results mean. For example, "Please explain more fully what some of this language means. If you cannot, please ask the physician to call me, or let’s schedule an appointment (a telemedicine visit is fine) to review this."

By doing just a few of these steps, you can end up with a lot less frustration and, equally as important, more meaningful and complete information.


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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