• Tracking tests

    Setting up your practice support systems

    Your training has equipped you with an understanding of the need for various treatments as well as the consequences of treatment being delayed. Where treatment involves obtaining further opinion or diagnostic tests, it is expected that the doctor will take reasonable steps to explain the nature, purpose and urgency of the referral or test. It is important to have efficient, reliable and time-friendly systems to support you in these activities.

    Setting your practice support systems up correctly at the outset will enable you to track and follow up on patient outcomes. While you may not wish to track all processes in your practice there are some general issues to consider:

    • The patient's medical condition - is it serious or life-threatening?
    • The risks to the patient of either delaying or not receiving the medical treatment. 
    • Are the test results are abnormal?

    Improving your practice

    In establishing an effective test-tracking system - you need to consider which types of tests/patients should be followed up and how. While you cannot 'force' a patient to undertake a test or procedure, it is certainly important that you are aware of any patients who have not had the tests you requested so you can take any appropriate action. Once you have decided on those tests/patients to be tracked, set up a system that allows you to record the outgoing test centrally, not just on the patient file. This can be done via a computer-assisted system or paper-based system.

    • If the practice is not computerised, one way to manage test tracking is to document all tests ordered in a manual spreadsheet recording the following information: (sample below)
      • patient's name
      • date
      • test ordered
      • site of biopsy (if applicable)
      • histology signed by courier and date
      • receipt of result including date and initials
      • reviewed by doctor including date and initials
      • patient notified; yes/no and date and time
      • contact mode
      • action
    • Once each action is completed an audit can be performed on a patient whose actions are incomplete to determine progress of test results.
    • Alternatively 'file isolation' can be utilised. However, this is dependent on all patient files with outstanding tests being kept in an 'outstanding test' section. When the result presents, the file is removed from the isolation area; the test result attached and provided to the doctor for review. A regular audit can be performed on the patient files that remain in the isolation section where no result has been performed. It is important that if anyone removes a patient file from the isolation area for any reason except when a test result presents, that a large piece of paper with the patient name be replaced to ensure the patient name remains in the isolation section.

    A computer-based system can enable effective central tracking of test results and can include the following capabilities:

    • All tests can be ordered electronically, ensuring they are automatically logged on the system.
    • You, and other doctors in the practice, can action/check off results upon receipt.
    • The treating doctor can record action taken and then choose to leave the recall facility open or closed. In this way, the test request can remain active/open until all action necessary has been taken (e.g. it can remain open until the patient has been back to see you following tests).
    • When the treating doctor is away, another doctor can be nominated to check results (particularly applicable where there are multiple practitioners in a general practice).
    • It is easy to nominate a practitioner, or member of the practice staff, to print off any outstanding test audit trail each week for each practitioner. This allows you to identify tests ordered where no results have been received. The practitioner will decide which patients require follow-up.
    • It is important to become familiar with the use of the electronic patient records as this will facilitate ease of test tracking, referral tracking and recalls.

    Whether a central register is managed by a manual system or a computerised system, the following should be done:

    • A system should be in place to ensure all diagnostic tests conducted on a patient are documented at least in the medical record.
    • All results should be reviewed and initialled by the treating medical practitioner, prior to filing in the patient's medical record and an accompanying action plan documented. Computerised patient records will record the practitioner who has reviewed the test result.
    • All clinically significant results should be followed up. The results should be reviewed and discussed with the patient, where appropriate, as soon as possible. A recall and reminder system should be in place to ensure the timely notification to patients. This could be either:
      • the patient contacting the practice for their results
      • and/or the practice contacting them and asking them to come in
      • or the routine rescheduling of patients with test results for review.
    • If a result is significant, the medical practitioner needs to ensure the patient is followed up, rather than relying on the patient to contact the practice to get the result.
    • Develop a policy on whether patients are required to schedule an appointment to receive results or whether phone contact is sufficient.
    • Document all attempts to contact and advise patients about the outcomes of tests or other information that could affect the state of their health, including any significant findings. Do not wait for the patient to act. In the event of not being able to contact a patient with an abnormal result, staff should try to contact the patient three times, on three different days, at three different times of the day. All attempts at contact, whether successful or not, should be documented in the patient file. Failing telephone contact, a letter should be forwarded by registered mail to the patient's address and a copy of the letter and receipt placed on the patient's file.
    • There should be a manual or computerised system to enable regular reports of all tests performed and reconciliation with results received, e.g. weekly.
    • Patients should be advised of the practice's system of notification of results, including the patient's responsibility to follow up results. At booking and each consultation, patient contact details should be checked for accuracy.
    • There should be a documented patient reminder system in place, which identifies patients needing regular follow-up, e.g. Pap smears. Patient consent should be obtained before placing them on the reminder system.
    • Consider documenting what you tell a patient in relation to follow-up.


    Public Health (Cervical Cytology) Regulations (1994), Subordinate Law no.30, accessed at - www.legislation.act.gov.au

    RACGP (2013), Standards for general practice (4th edition)