Why do I have to wait to get results from a medical exam?
November 22, 2009 3:38 PM   Subscribe

What is physically wrong with me and why do I have to wait for the doctor to tell me in person?

I'm 38 and female, never had children. Have had problems since my early 20s with cysts on ovaries. Had surgery six months ago to remove more cysts and scare tissue from lower abdomen, cervix and vagina. The scar tissue is from previous surgeries.

Have had irregular spotting, went to doctor to get it looked at. She ordered blood taken and ordered a sonogram. That procedure was done internally and hurt a lot. The tech commented that my left ovary was really high and asked me to push it down. The procedure was very painful and when I asked if it should be this painful, she responded "I can't answer that".

So when I called to get the results last Wednesday, I was told that the results had to be delivered in person, they wouldn't tell them to me over the phone. So I made an appointment for Tuesday, the soonest they could get me in. The office has called me twice now, to confirm that I'll be there on Tuesday and the last time, on Friday, delivered a message from the doctor, who hoped "I would have have a good weekend". I've been having consistent pain in my left ovary area, several times a day, painful periods. If I knew the answer I could at least get some relief from knowing and save my questions for later.

Why do doctors do this? Is there some special reason, liability or medical, why I have to wait for the results and have them delivered in person? I had assumed it was just another cyst.
posted by Unnecessarily Sarcastic Bitch to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I would interpret the doctor having you in the office to get the results as it being likely that it is more than a routine test result. It is likely something that the doctor feels is best delivered in person. Don't sweat it. Just keep the appointment. And good luck.
posted by JayRwv at 3:44 PM on November 22, 2009

I have had this experience when it's something that REALLY needs follow-up (like, you need to decide on another surgery, they want you to radically change your meds, you need a lot of new tests) and/or they need to make a complex treatment plan with multiple decisions to be made or even pulling in different kinds of doctors.

So not necessarily something really bad, just something that needs attention and can't be handled well over a 5 minute phone call.

Only had a doc call me out of the blue once, to check on me because I was rather uncomfortable until I could get the treatment I needed. Maybe that's why she called, you mentioned you're in pain.

Good idea to check for a Monday appointment if you can get it, but they might not want to squeeze you in if the doctor needs to sit and talk to you for a while.
posted by kathrineg at 3:59 PM on November 22, 2009

In case that didn't make sense...

They make you come in for the results in person so that you're there physically and you can't blow them off. So the test results are like the bait to get you in there, making decisions and being proactive about your care. It's good that they're doing this, it shows that they are actively making sure you're involved in your care. So it seems like you have a good, conscientious doctor.
posted by kathrineg at 4:03 PM on November 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

They make you come into the office regardless of the results so that a) you can't blow off any followup treatment that is needed and b) so that you cannot determine the results of the test from a phone call. This is standard procedure for many tests and is to ensure your medical privacy. If you could call and get negative results over the phone but they told you to "come see us" only for positive results, they are de facto delivering positive results over the phone.
posted by proj at 4:06 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I went through something similar nine years ago with very similar symptoms to you. The doctor wouldn't call me back, either, even though I was going nuts wondering what was wrong with me and why they wouldn't tell me. The nurses just insisted that I had to come to my appointment.

When I finally got there, the doctor said it was her policy not to discuss test results over the phone. (It turned out to be a ruptured cyst and endometriosis.) I asked whether that could be changed, but apparently it couldn't at that office. It seems a bit harsh to me, making people sweat and fret like that, but maybe they'd had a liability issue in passing out personal health details to the wrong person on the phone.

Good luck, and I hope this is just your ob/gyn's policy rather than something more serious for your health.
posted by vickyverky at 4:09 PM on November 22, 2009

Why do doctors do this? Is there some special reason, liability or medical, why I have to wait for the results and have them delivered in person?

Obviously I can't speak for your doctor, but I can tell you why the doctor I work for does it.

If we have a patient with an abnormal blood test- say high cholesterol- we can't just call them up and say "You have high cholesterol so take some pills. We'll mail you a prescription." We make the patient come in because the doctor has to go over the risks/benefits of the medication and explain how to take the med- with food, at night, etc. Often the new med will require weekly/monthly/quarterly blood tests. We need to explain why the blood tests are necessary and what will happen if the future blood tests come back with abnormal results. And the doctor has to document that he/she has had this conversation with the patient, has answered all questions, and the patient seems to understand. Of course, the doctors I work for allow me to tell the patient that their results were abnormal and they need to come in to dicuss meds. I would absolutely hate to hear "come in, but we won't tell you why until you get here," and I try not to ever say it.

I like kathrineg's suggestion of calling first thing Monday and asking of there were any cancellations. At that time I would again mention the pain, and if someone human answers the phone, be honest and say you're a little scared and freaked out.

This whole thing of keeping patients in the dark about their condition is a huge pet peeve of mine so if I come off as sounding pissy about what other doctors do, please take my comments with a grain of salt. What works in my office may not translate to your doctor's office.
posted by dogmom at 4:42 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Like everyone else has pretty much said, it is probably because the results require a little bit of a discussion (whether it's to discuss follow-up testing, medicine, surgery, or whatever). I have gotten calls like that twice in my life, and both times were just because I needed some additional testing done to figure out what, if anything, was going on. So, it doesn't necessarily mean anything is wrong, just that they need to discuss something with you.

That said, I really like the suggestion to call and see if there were any cancellations. I've got my fingers crossed that you can get in there ASAP and that all is well.
posted by dumbledore69 at 7:44 PM on November 22, 2009

My (Canadian) experience is that my doctor never divulges test results over the phone. I think it might be just because he'd be missing out on the fee for the follow up visit.

Good luck!
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:51 PM on November 22, 2009

Everyone else's suggestions are really sensible, but I just thought I'd add: if it was something super serious and urgent, they would've found you an appointment sooner or sent you straight to hospital. So try not to freak out too much!
posted by Emilyisnow at 12:15 AM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding it's something that requires treatment or more tests. The only test reports I've gotten over the phone were of the "everything was normal" or "you have strep throat, I'll call in a scrip" variety.

But this hardly means something horrifying! I've had female troubles similar to you and the doctor brought me back in to tell me they wanted to do another ultrasound as the first was not clear enough; it turned out to be completely minor. But I was sh*tting myself for days beforehand.

Another female trouble time (what is it with us girls and our plumbing?...but I digress) she wanted to tell me in person I had blown out an ovarian cyst and that was the reason for the excruciating pain. What to do about it? Nothing. She just wanted to show me the ultrasound picture to explain everything. I wish she had done it over the phone, especially considering I was in pain.

It would certainly be worth your while to express how anxious this cloak and dagger process makes you feel. I think it's pretty miserable. Please keep us posted.
posted by dzaz at 2:46 AM on November 23, 2009

I am very sorry you went through this. Have they determined PCOS or just random cysts? Is your question why they won't explain things on the phone? If so, did you sign medical release forms that said "yes, tell me diagnosis over the phone and yes, feel free to leave a message." They do it for HIPAA.

And if you don't like the service you're receiving, switch docs if you can. I can't imagine what you went through but it sounds pretty horrible. I would get a second opinion on what you went through and for the future. You pushing an ovary that is high sounds weird. I have one wrapped to the back of my uterus due to endo. To me, they should leave it the hell alone. It is what it is and manipulating it sounds like b.s. to me. It's a sonogram, moving things shouldn't be necessary.

And as weird as it sounds, you might want to consider an infertility specialist to deal with future surgeries. They would know how to leave things unscathed in case you want children.
posted by stormpooper at 9:36 AM on November 23, 2009

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