How Reliable is Laboratory Testing?

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Laboratory testing is an exact science conducted by trained professionals, with rigorous statistical analysis, quality controls, and extensive oversight. Medical testing is an important component in the diagnostic tool kit. However, laboratory testing is most reliable when used in conjunction with other meaningful data collected in the diagnostic process and when appropriate questions are asked and answered.

You can put great trust in the data generated by today’s exacting medical tests. A caveat to remember is that a diagnosis and treatment plan for a serious disease should never be based on a single medical test. Test findings are just one of the pieces of the diagnostic puzzle. Help your health care provider with the interpretation of the data by providing thorough information on your medical history and keeping track of symptoms you wish to report. To reduce the chance that you are improperly diagnosed and given potentially harmful and unnecessary medical procedures, first follow test preparation instructions carefully and tell your doctor and the person collecting your sample about any variation to these instructions.

If you and your doctor are surprised by a test result, here are some questions you could discuss together.

1. Does the result fit with my symptoms and current state of health?

2. How often do false negative or false positive occur with this test?

3. Is the course of action being considered serious enough that a test should be repeated?

4. Is their any reason to doubt the quality of the test result?

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