Decoding Your Lab Report
Lab reports are a routine but mysterious part of medical visits. Whether you are being diagnosed with diabetes for the first time or getting your A1C test for the hundredth time, you are likely going to need to undergo some kind of testing so that your doctor will know what's going on and recommend the proper course of treatment, if necessary. But when you see your test results, will you know what it means?
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The lab report format is not the same for all reports. Yet the information contained within the report should be, according to the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA).1 This legislation requires that all laboratory reports contain certain elements:
- For positive patient identification, either the patient's name and identification number, or a unique patient identifier and identification number.
- The name and address of the laboratory location where the test was performed.
- The test report date.
- The test performed.
- Specimen source, when appropriate. (The specimen source is whatever material was used for testing, i.e. blood, plasma, urine, swab for cultures, etc.)
- Any information regarding the condition and disposition of specimens that do not meet the laboratory's criteria for acceptability.2
You will find most if not all of the patient and performing lab information, and applicable dates and times (most likely military time) at the very top and/or bottom of your lab report. This information may also include your ordering doctor's name (i.e., the doctor who ordered the test); your primary care physician's name and address (copies should be sent to your PCP if not ordered by him/her); and ID numbers that will help identify your report from all others.
Other parts of the lab report will deal with the specimen that was tested and the results of the test. The lab report format may include:
- Laboratory accession number. Number(s) assigned to the sample(s) when it arrives at the laboratory. Some labs will have a single accession number for all your tests and other labs may have multiple accession numbers that help the lab identify the samples.
- Name of the test performed. Test names are often abbreviated on lab reports. You may want to look for abbreviated test names in the pull down menu on the home page of this site or type the acronym into the search box to find information on specific tests.
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I'm sitting waiting for a table at the cafe' for me and a friend who is running a bit late. Feeling a little off, I grab my test kit and poke my finger, getting a little blood droplet. "Does that hurt?" Asks the man sitting next to me. He's an older guy, with some pretty profound ear hair. I note the ear hair as I say "Sort of... I think I'm kind of used to it now. I've been doing it a long time." My sugar is a little elevated...