My doctor’s office called me back today with my “lab results” from Tuesday’s office visit. “Your A1c is normal. Your lipids are normal. Your liver function is normal.” Usually they WILL give me my A1c and my total cholesterol, though this time I just got the litany of test types run and “is normal”.
The way my mother talks, it sounds like this is the type of feedback she gets from her doctor, and it is the only feedback she gets from her doctor (other than changes in prescriptions). While my mother and my sister are both very happy with the level of care they get from their PCP, this lack of specific information is not reassuring.
As everyone here is well aware, “Your sugar is normal” is NOT “lab results”. Lab results for “sugar” are specific numbers for blood glucose, HbA1C, and fructosamine, with ranges for what the lab’s assay procedures consider “normal” range for the average adult with no co-morbid conditions.
I could have asked for the numbers on the phone, but I was away from home – and between the glucose panel, metabolic panel, and thyroid panel, and several other sets of tests that were run, it would have been cumbersome at best. Instead, I did what I always do: I ask for copies to be sent to me.
There are several advantages to having scans and/or hard-copies of my labwork. First, of course, is for my own awareness of how my body is behaving based on normal ranges. My Excel workbook includes a spreadsheet specifically for lab results, giving me the advantage of being able to check up the specific dates of doctor visits and diagnostic tests, the results, trends, and – when my health insurance was sending me at-home tests duplicating my doctor’s in-office testss – comparing one lab’s results to another’s. The second advantage is that of having a quantitative health history that can be shared with any specialist with whom I may need to consult. A third reason for keeping copies of one’s lab reports is to verify standards-of-care by knowing which tests were run, when. A fourth is to be able to document and correct erroneous entries in your personal medical history.
There are some records I should have thought to ask for, but didn’t – specifically, copies of EKG results whenever those have been run, and copies of MRI and CAT scan images. In addition, there are some bits and pieces of information related to my childhood health records – specifically, a corrective orthopaedic procedure performed over 40 years ago – that have become “forever lost” as medical practice has moved forward. Not having details of the specific surgical procedure (I know it’s name, but have not found any references to it on the Web) has become a hindrance in interpreting diagnostic results for the limb in question. (Parents: please, please, please – if your child must undergo an unusual surgical procedure, get a written description in both medical and lay terms of the name of the procedure, what that surgery entails, and why it was performed. Keep it with your child’s medical history, and make sure s/he has a copy of that information for his or her own records.)
Asking for, maintaining, and analyzing copies of your labwork is a useful tool in short- and long-term medical self-maintenance. It is your right, and it is your prerogative to optimize the care you are getting, and the care you are taking of yourself.