Doctors, Lab Scientists differ on who should interpret Patients’ Laboratory Test results

Senior medical professionals have said that it is not right for laboratory scientists to be interpreting laboratory test results for patients, arguing that it is the duty of the doctors who have sent the patients for the diagnostic tests to do so.

According to the medical practitioners, the results of laboratory tests should be sealed and sent to the patient’s doctor who will now do the interpretation and explain the details of the results to the patient based on his observation and finding.

The physicians noted that the doctor needs to look at the patient’s medical history and clinical findings and analyze the two to know what is wrong with the patient.

The issue of the roles of laboratory scientists in the interpretation of patients’ laboratory test results has become contentious in recent times.

Speaking in an interview obtained by LN247 on the issue, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Uche Ojinmah, said the result of a laboratory test is confidential until a doctor discusses it with a patient.

Dr. Ojinmah stated that the interpretation of a test result for a patient belongs to the doctor and not to the laboratory scientist.

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He explained, “You can see your result and collapse because you don’t understand what is there. You can look at a result and think it is bad relative to your composition based on a layman’s idea. In the classical sense, results are sent to the doctor.

“Remember that it was the doctor that examined the patient and sent him to run some tests to confirm what he is suspecting. So, if you go to the laboratory scientist to interpret the result, he does not have your history.

“So, it is a sensitive matter in medical jurisprudence. Results are very sensitive. It is always better for the doctor and the patient to discuss the result before any other person can see it.”

The NMA leader further noted, “In fact, in many established laboratories, when you carry out a test, they send the result to your email. It is now the doctor that will sit with the patient and explain the result.

“After that, the patient can see the result and the patient will not take the result because it will be in the folder as a record.

“But if you need a copy for any reason, it can be given to you once it is the patient that owns the result he is asking for.”

According to him, going to a laboratory to collect a result and open it, can cause a problem and make someone else see what he is not supposed to see.

The NMA president maintained that a laboratory test result is a confidential document that should be discussed between the doctor and the patient.

However, a past President of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, Dr. Toyosi Raheem, told our correspondent in an interview that everybody that had paid for a service has a right to detailed information about the service.

Dr. Raheem noted that even the National Health Act 2014 supports that patients should have the right to detailed information about the services they paid for.

“Apart from laboratory services, even clinical services where drugs are prescribed for patients by the clinician, you have the right to ask the clinician the names of those drugs. 

“The same thing with laboratory services, as long as you are the one that paid for the service, you have the right to have the necessary information over what you paid for. That is the first leg of my response.

“The second leg of my response is that if you are referred by a clinician to a laboratory centre, even though the lab has the right to tell you the result of your test based on its professional competence to do such, you still have the right to go back to that clinician with the result.

“With the result, the clinician or doctor will examine you properly and compare the result with the clinical findings.

“So, it is not to say that after knowing the details about the result, the patient will go away and buy drugs. That is one reason the clinician used to say ‘bring the result back to me,’” he explained.

The laboratory scientist pointed out that bringing the result back to me is not synonymous as you don’t have the right to know the content of the result.

According to him, that is not correct under the National Health Act.

Studies have shown that laboratory services play an integral role in the healthcare system – from primary- through to tertiary-level care – since diagnostic tests can either confirm or exclude a tentative diagnosis, or screen for potential diseases.

The underlying purpose of laboratory testing researchers say lies in the association between laboratory test results and the potential to improve a patient’s health status.

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