Talking about Medical Tests with Your Health Care Team
Whether you're healthy or ill, there are a variety of medical tests your health care team might recommend for you. A yearly checkup often includes routine tests such as blood sugar and cholesterol levels, vision and hearing assessments, tests for heart functioning and others used to monitor a chronic condition—such as a lung function test for those with asthma.
You may also be tested to diagnose or confirm the presence of a disease, or to see how well a particular treatment or medication is working. Regardless of the reason for the test, make sure you know the answers to these important questions:
- What tests will I have?
- How should I prepare for these tests?
- Why have these tests been ordered?
- What will the tests show?
- What should I do after the test results are in?
- How will I be informed of the test results?
- What are the potential risks and benefits of these tests?
- How will the test results affect further treatment decisions?
- Does insurance cover the test? What are your out-of-pocket costs?
After a test is done, it’s important to follow up for your results. Ask your doctor when you can expect results and call to follow-up. Doctors’ offices and labs are busy places and sometimes, tests can get lost or delayed. Don’t assume no news is good news. CALL.
Where can you learn more about the test you’re getting? These websites can help you learn more about diagnostic and lab tests so you feel more prepared to discuss them with your doctor.
- Lab Test Online from the American Association for Clinical Chemistry
- Merck Manual: Common Medical Tests
- WebMD Medical Tests and Tools
- Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide
- Understanding Lab Test Results, from Cigna
How Should You Prepare for a Medical Test?
Some medical tests may require specific preparation, such as fasting before checking your blood sugar levels. While you should get specific recommendations from your doctor’s office, these websites explain how to prepare for common medical tests:
What Screening Tests Should You Get?
You should consult with your doctor to determine what screening tests you need. Doctors will consider your age, your sex, your family history and other factors to determine if a specific test is recommended. Screening tests are used to detect disease before symptoms ever appear. The goal of screening is to find disease early so that it can be managed or reduce the likelihood that the disease will make you critically ill.
- The Agency for Health Research and Quality checklist for health, including a list of recommended screenings:
- The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force publishes a guide to preventive services for major diseases and other health risks and provides information on recommendations for adults, children and adolescents.
- Womenshealth.gov has more information for screening tests for women and fact sheets on diseases.
- WebMD has a slideshow about several common women's health screenings
- WebMD also has a video for moms-to-be on prenatal screenings during various stages of pregnancy
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has a hand-out on Routine Tests in Pregnancy.
- The American Cancer Society compiles cancer screening tests by age and gender.
Resources reviewed June 2013
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