Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Quality and safety issues highlighted by patients in the handling of laboratory test results by general practices–a qualitative study

David Edward Cunningham, Duncan McNab and Paul Bowie*

Author Affiliations

Postgraduate GP Education, NES Education for Scotland, 2 Central Quay, 89 Hydepark Street, Glasgow G3 8BW, UK

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:206  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-206

Published: 6 May 2014

Abstract

Background

In general practice internationally, many care teams handle large numbers of laboratory test results relating to patients in their care. Related research about safety issues is limited with most of the focus on this workload from secondary care and in North American settings. Little has been published in relation to primary health care in the UK and wider Europe. This study aimed to explore experiences and perceptions of patients with regards to the handling of test results by general practices.

Methods

A qualitative research approach was used with patients. The setting was west of Scotland general practices from one National Health Service territorial board area. Patients were purposively sampled from practice held lists of patients who received a number of laboratory tests because of chronic medical problems or surveillance of high risk medicines. Focus groups were held and were audio-recorded. Tapes were transcribed and subjected to qualitative analysis. Transcripts were coded and codes merged into themes by two of the researchers.

Results

19 participants from four medical practices took part in four focus groups. The main themes identified were: 1. Patients lacked awareness of the results handling process in their practice. 2. Patients usually did not contact their practice for test results, unless they considered themselves to be ill. 3. Patients were concerned about the appropriateness of administrators being involved in results handling. 4. Patients were concerned about breaches of confidentiality when administrators were involved in results handling. 5. Patients valued the use of dedicated results handling staff. 6. Patients welcomed the use of technology to alert them to results being available, and valued the ability to choose how this happened.

Conclusions

The study confirms the quality and safety of care problems associated with results handling systems and adds to our knowledge of the issues that impact in these areas. Practices need to be aware that patients may not contact them about results, and they need to publicise their results handling processes to patients and take steps to reassure patients about confidentiality with regards to administrators.