Many patients we see need blood work as part of their evaluation. Although labs are cheap compared with other tests we order, they can still be frustrating to get.

It’s not hard to order them. Ordering any test is pretty easy.

But I hate duplicating tests. Patients often say they just had labs done, which “were all fine,” but that tells me nothing. For all I know, it was a lipid panel and PSA, entirely unrelated to what I’m seeing them for.

Occasionally, they bring labs in with them, or I’ve gotten them in advance, but usually I’m working blind.

Back when I was new to practice, I just ordered everything I wanted. I figured it was easier than trying to get the previous ones. I think we all do that sometimes. And there’s kind of an ivory-tower mentality we all have early in our careers that “I’m the doctor, and I’ll do what I want.”

I quickly learned that often backfires. If the same labs were done recently, many insurance companies won’t pay for them … and the patients get a bill. Then they call my office and complain. It didn’t take me long to realize this approach was a waste of their time, money, and blood.

So now I always ask if they’ve had labs done since the symptoms started. If the answer is yes, I’ll call or fax the other doctor to get them. This can take (depending on the other office) a few hours to days. But the majority of outpatient neurology is nonurgent, and a extra few days usually doesn’t matter in the things I treat.

When I get the labs, it’s easy to make some quick notes on what was done and what still needs to be checked. I scribble out a lab order, mail or fax it, and have my staff notify the patient the ball is rolling. It’s not hard.

Patients appreciate it. I’m saving them time, blood, money, and maybe even a venipuncture. I get the tests I want, still in a timely fashion. It also keeps insurance costs down for all of us.

Obviously, there are some cases where urgency has to take priority. But for the majority of them, duplicating tests needlessly is a bad idea for all involved.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.


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