Reading your results
All patients in the UK have the right to see their own test results. Historically this has been in the form of paper reports given to patients by their GP or hospital clinician, but results are now increasingly available directly online via GP record systems or hospital information systems.
Test reports are not always created with patients in mind and can sometimes be confusing and difficult to understand, especially where there are many different results on the same report. Regardless of how you view your tests results there are some basic rules that can help you to make sense of your results.
What does it all mean?
The key components of a test report are illustrated below using some example reports.
Example 1 – Standard printed laboratory report:
Example 2 - Online GP record:
- Result: May be numerical or text (e.g. Positive or negative)
- Reference range: tells you within what range you would expect a normal result to lie
- Flag: Tells you whether a result is outside of the expected range. This may appear in different forms, such as arrows, stars, colouring or highlights
- Units: Tells you what the test is measured in
- Interpretive comment: may or may not be present with abnormal results
Important things to consider
- A test result outside of the reference range may not indicate a problem. Equally, if all results are within the reference range this does not completely guarantee there isn’t a problem.
- Not all abnormal results will be flagged as abnormal on the report. This is because there are some results that laboratories cannot report an abnormal flag for. This is particularly true for text results.
- Always look out for comments attached to results. Often these have important information about the test and how to interpret the result.
- Comments may have been added automatically by a laboratory computer or by a laboratory scientist or doctor. Generally comments are written for the doctor requesting the test rather than the patient and so they may not be particularly meaningful to you. Always talk to the requesting doctor if you have concerns about a report.