Primary care physicians (PCPs) confront bottlenecks in ordering and interpreting laboratory tests, and there are opportunities for laboratorians to help PCPs use these tests in better ways, reports an article published in the August issue of CLN. The insights come from a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Clinical Laboratory Integration into Healthcare Collaborative (CLIHC), an ambitious project of the agency’s Division of Laboratory Science and Standards aimed at filling gaps that impede practicing clinicians from effectively utilizing lab services for better patient care. The survey was the last in a series of CLIHC initiatives to gather data about diagnostic test utilization.

The authors surveyed 31,689 PCPs in late 2011, to which they received 1,768 responses. Respondents said they ordered diagnostic laboratory tests in 31% of weekly encounters with patients, and they reported being uncertain about ordering and interpreting tests 14.7% and 8.3% of the time, respectively.

Because there are more than 300 million PCP visits in the United States annually, these percentages do not represent small figures. That means that about 23 million patients per year could have received inappropriately ordered or incorrectly interpreted test results. “In many ways, the survey confirmed conventional wisdom about the diagnostic process: that the kaleidoscope of test names trips up physicians, and that they are frustrated by slow turnaround times and lack of access to prior results,” wrote CLN Senior Editor Genna Rollins. “PCPs also reported as problematic lab-to-lab variations in normal ranges for tests, and lab-to-lab variations in report formats.”

More details about the biggest challenges PCPs face in ordering and interpreting lab results are available in the August issue of CLN.