Text messages sent by GP practices to share blood test results with patients have been branded ‘flippant, ‘blunt’ and ‘confusing’ in a new survey.

Researchers from the University of Bristol spoke to patients and GPs about how routine blood test results are shared, and have warned that not having clear communication pathways could lead to delayed or missed diagnoses.

While doctors said they would text or call a patient if the results were abnormal, many patients said they assumed that if they didn’t hear anything, it was good news. This meant some were left waiting for results as they mistakenly thought their doctor would get in touch with them.

The research team spoke to 19 GPs and 28 patients from six practices across Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire between May 2019 and March 2020.

With text messages becoming more commonplace since the pandemic, most doctors surveyed viewed them positively. Some patients viewed them favourably, saying they were ‘quick and easy’, but many said they did not contain enough information.

Some patients described the process as ‘inappropriate’ when it came to sharing worrying results.

The researchers have now warned that delays in getting results could lead to ‘missed diagnoses’, with study author and GP Dr Jessica Watson saying that assuming patients know how to access results ‘were particular risks’.

GPs emphasised to the research team that patients should ‘never presume no news is good news’.

Dr Watson said: “GPs have a medico-legal and ethical responsibility to ensure they have clear, robust systems for communicating test results.

“New technologies may be incorporated into these systems but are not a panacea. Failure to ensure safe systems for communicating test results could have significant consequences for patients and practices.

“Relying on patients to get in contact and making assumptions about their knowledge of how to do so were particular risks highlighted in our research.”

On average, GPs spent around 90 minutes to two hours each day reviewing blood tests. Finding better ways to communicate test results to patients could free up more of their time and ensure results are delivered in a safe, timely fashion.

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