Understanding your tests


Last Review Date: August 1, 2018

Your Role

You play an important role in ensuring you get most benefit from your tests and that your test results are accurate. It is important you do everything you can to make sure the information you provide is correct and that you follow instructions closely. 

Provide all relevant information

 Effective communications between you and your healthcare team is essential. The choice of tests your doctor makes will be based on your clinical history and symptoms.   Tell them everything you think may have a bearing on your healthcare.  You may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed talking about some aspects of your health in the consulting room – but your diagnosis depends on you being honest and open with them. 

Give them your complete personal, medical and family history and tell them about any medications that you are taking at the time of testing, including herbal remedies and supplements, as these can affect the results. You also may be asked about the amount of alcohol you drink and if you smoke. Providing complete, accurate information is essential to the reliability of your test results.

Ask  questions

 Find out why tests need to be done, how they will be done, and what your doctor expects to learn from them. Make some notes to take along if this helps.  Ask:

  • Why does this test need to be done?
  • How could it change the course of my care?
  • What do I need to know or do before the test? (See Follow instructions below.)
  • What factors can affect the results?
  • What happens during the sample collection?
  • How much will it hurt or cause inconvenience?
  • How much will the test cost? Is it covered by Medicare or private insurance?
  • How long will it be before my results are available?
  • Where do I need to go to take the test?
  • What does an abnormal result mean?
  • Will an abnormal result mean I need further tests?
  • What course of action may be next, after the test?

 Your doctor is the best person to answer these questions. Take notes of what they say, if this helps.  If you forget anything that you’ve been told you may find the answers on this website. 

People who need special help

Children, people who have a disability and the elderly may need special help when having a sample taken. Please see Coping with discomfort and anxiety.

 Follow instructions

 Pathology tests are only as good as the samples on which they are performed.  Most tests are straightforward and require no preparation but others require you to make some changes.  Some tests require you to fast, to stop eating certain foods or to stop taking medications or supplements. Some require you to give a sample at a specific time. 

Be sure to check with your doctor or their medical practice about their instructions rather than relying on the information on this or other web sites, as procedures can differ between testing laboratories. 

If you have any doubts about whether you have prepared properly, check with the person taking your sample – the nurse or the collector at the laboratory’s collection centre (phlebotomist). For a brief outline on the way samples are collected see How samples are collected.

 Examples of test preparation

 Fasting

Some tests such as blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and glucose require you to fast before you give the sample because food can affect the results.  In the first few hours after you eat, many chemicals in your blood undergo changes. 

Changes can also occur if you don’t eat for an extended period.  So, fasting for too long can also affect the results. In most situations, fasting means not eating for between three and 12 hours.  Samples for fasting blood tests are often collected in the morning after an overnight fast.  For most fasting tests you are advised to drink water as normal. Being dehydrated can also affect results.  However, some tests require you to stop drinking water. 


Diet

The types of food you eat can be important when preparing for some tests. Some tests require you to avoid certain food, others require you to eat a low or high fibre diet.

 
Smoking and alcohol
Some tests require you to stop smoking or stop drinking alcohol.
 
Medications and/or supplements

Some tests require you to stop taking medications and/or supplements. This must be done under your doctor’s supervision. For example, allergy testing means stopping antihistamines; the Hydrogen Breath Test requires you to stop taking antibiotics and laxatives; and if you are having a test for H. pylori you must stop taking antibiotics, bismuth medication and proton pump inhibitors.


Your Role

You play an important role in ensuring you get most benefit from your tests and that your test results are accurate. It is important you do everything you can to make sure the information you provide is correct and that you follow instructions closely. 

Provide all relevant information

 Effective communications between you and your healthcare team is essential. The choice of tests your doctor makes will be based on your clinical history and symptoms.   Tell them everything you think may have a bearing on your healthcare.  You may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed talking about some aspects of your health in the consulting room – but your diagnosis depends on you being honest and open with them. 

Give them your complete personal, medical and family history and tell them about any medications that you are taking at the time of testing, including herbal remedies and supplements, as these can affect the results. You also may be asked about the amount of alcohol you drink and if you smoke. Providing complete, accurate information is essential to the reliability of your test results.

Ask  questions

 Find out why tests need to be done, how they will be done, and what your doctor expects to learn from them. Make some notes to take along if this helps.  Ask:

  • Why does this test need to be done?
  • How could it change the course of my care?
  • What do I need to know or do before the test? (See Follow instructions below.)
  • What factors can affect the results?
  • What happens during the sample collection?
  • How much will it hurt or cause inconvenience?
  • How much will the test cost? Is it covered by Medicare or private insurance?
  • How long will it be before my results are available?
  • Where do I need to go to take the test?
  • What does an abnormal result mean?
  • Will an abnormal result mean I need further tests?
  • What course of action may be next, after the test?

 Your doctor is the best person to answer these questions. Take notes of what they say, if this helps.  If you forget anything that you’ve been told you may find the answers on this website. 

People who need special help

Children, people who have a disability and the elderly may need special help when having a sample taken. Please see Coping with discomfort and anxiety.

 Follow instructions

 Pathology tests are only as good as the samples on which they are performed.  Most tests are straightforward and require no preparation but others require you to make some changes.  Some tests require you to fast, to stop eating certain foods or to stop taking medications or supplements. Some require you to give a sample at a specific time. 

Be sure to check with your doctor or their medical practice about their instructions rather than relying on the information on this or other web sites, as procedures can differ between testing laboratories. 

If you have any doubts about whether you have prepared properly, check with the person taking your sample – the nurse or the collector at the laboratory’s collection centre (phlebotomist). For a brief outline on the way samples are collected see How samples are collected.

 Examples of test preparation

 Fasting

Some tests such as blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and glucose require you to fast before you give the sample because food can affect the results.  In the first few hours after you eat, many chemicals in your blood undergo changes. 

Changes can also occur if you don’t eat for an extended period.  So, fasting for too long can also affect the results. In most situations, fasting means not eating for between three and 12 hours.  Samples for fasting blood tests are often collected in the morning after an overnight fast.  For most fasting tests you are advised to drink water as normal. Being dehydrated can also affect results.  However, some tests require you to stop drinking water. 


Diet

The types of food you eat can be important when preparing for some tests. Some tests require you to avoid certain food, others require you to eat a low or high fibre diet.

 
Smoking and alcohol
Some tests require you to stop smoking or stop drinking alcohol.
 
Medications and/or supplements

Some tests require you to stop taking medications and/or supplements. This must be done under your doctor’s supervision. For example, allergy testing means stopping antihistamines; the Hydrogen Breath Test requires you to stop taking antibiotics and laxatives; and if you are having a test for H. pylori you must stop taking antibiotics, bismuth medication and proton pump inhibitors.


What are reference intervals or reference ranges

You may have noticed that some of your test results are shown in your report as a comparison against a set of numbers called reference interval or reference ranges. This is the interval or range of test results that has been deemed ‘normal’ for the general population – most healthy people can be expected to have results that fall within this interval.  

How do we determine what is normal for a diagnostic test? The first step in defining a reference interval is to define the ‘healthy’ population. Reference intervals are established by taking the results of large numbers of healthy people and calculating what is typical for them. Factors such as age, sex and ethnicity can affect results, so often a series of reference intervals is established. 

The reference interval for a particular laboratory test is expressed as the average value for the ‘normal’ population group together with the variation around that value (plus or minus 2 standard deviations from the average). In this way, intervals represent the values found in 95% of individuals in the reference group. A consequence of this approach is that even in a ‘normal’ population a test result is outside the reference range in 5% of cases (1 in 20).

It’s important to realise that having a result that is marked ‘high’ or ‘low’ and is outside the reference interval is not necessarily something you need to be alarmed about.  Your result should be considered within the context of your personal circumstances and with the benefit of your own and your doctor's knowledge of your past medical and personal history, together with the results of any other investigations performed. For more about interpretation of your results and reference ranges see Reading your results.
 
Harmonised reference intervals
For most tests on the Lab Tests OnlineAu website, we do not show the reference interval or range. This is for several reasons, including the fact that different laboratories use different kinds of equipment and different kinds of testing methods. This means they have to establish their own intervals and provide your test result with an accompanying reference interval that is appropriate to the laboratory where your sample is tested.

Scientists and pathologists have recognised for some time that having multiple reference intervals, albeit sometimes with a small variation in the numerical limits of the interval, is not ideal and a potential cause of confusion. Accordingly, the pathology profession has been engaged in a project that will lead to a single reference interval for certain tests, no matter in which laboratory the sample is tested. The tests where this is possible are shown below. For some of these tests, there will be age-related intervals which means specific intervals for adults and for children (paediatric reference intervals) some of which vary by age.
 
Tests with harmonised reference intervals (Adults)
Test Reference Interval
Sodium 135–145 mmol/L
Potassium 3.5–5.2 mmol/L
Chloride 95–110 mmol/L
Bicarbonate 22–32 mmol/L
Creatinine Male - 60–110 µmol/L
Female - 45–90 µmol/L
Calcium 2.10–2.60 mmol/L
Calcium corrected for albumin 2.10–2.60 mmol/L
Phosphate 0.75–1.50 mmol/L
Magnesium 0.70–1.10 mmol/L
Lactate dehydrogenase 120–250 U/L
Alkaline phosphatase 30–110 U/L
Total protein 60–80 g/L
Bilirubin 1 – 20 µmol/L
Creatine kinase Male (18-60 years) 45 – 250 U/L
Male (60 -120 years) 40 – 200 U/L
Female 30 – 150 U/L
Alanine aminotransferase Male 5 - 40 U/L
Female 5 - 35 U/L
Aspartate aminotransferase Male 5 – 35 U/L
Female 5 – 30 U/L
Gamma glutamyltransferase Male 5 – 50 U/L
Female 5 – 35 U/L
Lipase 10 – 60 U/L
 
Tests with harmonised reference intervals (Paediatrics)
Test Reference Interval
Sodium 0 day to <1 week 132–147 mmol/L
1 week to 18 years 133–144 mmol/L
Potassium 0 day to <1 week 3.8–6.5 mmol/L
1 week to 26 weeks 4.2–6.7 mmol/L
26 weeks to 2 years 3.9–5.6 mmol/L
2 years to 18 years 3.6–5.3 mmol/L
Chloride 0 day to <1 week 98–115 mmol/L
1 week – 18 years 98–110 mmol/L
Bicarbonate 0 day to <1 week 15–28 mmol/L
1 week to 2 years 16–29 mmol/L
2 years to 10 years 17–30 mmol/L
10 years to 18 years 20–32 mmol/L
Creatinine 0 day to <1 week 22–93 umol/L
1 week to 4 weeks 17–50 umol/L
4 weeks to 2 years 11–36 umol/L
2 years to 6 years 20–44 umol/L
6 years to 12 years 27–58 umol/L
Males
12 years to 15 years 35–83 µmol/L
15 years to 19 years 50–100 µmol/L
19 years to 60 years 60–110 µmol/L
Females
12 years to 15 years 35–74 µmol/L
15 years to 19 years 38–82 µmol/L
19 years to 60 years 45–90 µmol/L
Calcium 0 day to <1 week 1.85–2.80 mmol/L
1 week to 26 weeks 2.20–2.80 mmol/L
26 weeks to 2 years 2.20–2.70 mmol/L
2 years to 18 years 2.20–2.65 mmol/L
Phosphate 0 days to 1 week 1.25–2.85 mmol/L
1 week to 4 weeks 1.50–2.75 mmol/L
4 weeks to 26 weeks 1.45–2.50 mmol/L
26 weeks to 1 year 1.30–2.30 mmol/L
1 year to 4 years 1.10–2.20 mmol/L
4 years to 15 years 0.90–2.00 mmol/L
15 years to 18 years 0.80–1.85 mmol/L
18 years to 20 years 0.75–1.65 mmol/L
Magnesium 0 days to 1 week 0.60–1.00 mmol/L
1 week to 18 years 0.65–1.10 mmol/L
Alkaline phosphatase 0 days to 1 week 80–380 U/L
1 week to 4 weeks 120–550 U/L
4 weeks to 26 weeks 120–650 U/L
26 weeks to 2 years 120–450 U/L
2 years to 6 years 120–370 U/L
6 years to 10 years 120–440 U/L
Males
10 years to 14 years 130–530 U/L
14 years to 15 years 105–480 U/L
15 years to 17 years 80–380 U/L
17 years to 19 years 50–220 U/L
19 years to 22 years 45–150 U/L
 
Females
10 years to 13 years 100–460 U/L
13 years to 14 years 70–330 U/L
14 years to 15 years 50–280 U/L
15 years to 16 years 35–140 U/L
16 years to 22 years 30–110 U/L
 
 These so-called Harmonised Reference Intervals are also shown as part of the relevant Test information and under the heading: Reference Intervals or Ranges.

Harmonised intervals are a relatively new development and while there is agreement on the values of the actual interval, laboratories are in the process of adopting these intervals so it is possible that your results report may not show these intervals at the moment but in time all laboratories will adopt them for these particular tests.
More detailed information about Reference Intervals and how they are calculated can be found in Reference Intervals and What they mean.
 
Reference Intervals ( also known as Reference ranges) are a way of comparing your test results with those considered normal for the general population.

Increasingly, people are having direct access to their pathology test results and with the introduction of the Australian Government's My Health Record this is expected to become even more commonplace.
However, reading the results can be confusing.  Understanding what is normal and what is abnormal can be a little daunting. Here, we give a couple of examples to explain some of the essential information.
 
Who prepares your test results report?

The pathology report is a medical document produced by the pathology practice. All pathology reports contains certain compulsory information that is essential for interpreting your results. Individual pathology laboratories often add their own information and they can vary in the way it is presented.

Your tests will have been performed by scientists and/or pathologists.  The pathologist-in-charge who is  a medical doctor who specialises in interpreting test results and observing and evaluating biological changes to make a diagnosis, will be responsible for your report. The pathologist is available to discuss your results with your doctor.
 

All that is red is not always abnormal

 Here is a cumulative report for the full blood count results for a 17-year old girl who first came with her mother to her family doctor in mid-April complaining of very heavy periods and tiredness.  (A cumulative report is one that provides successive test results over a period of time.)


Increasingly, doctors are giving patients their test results and with the introduction of the Australian Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records (PCEHR), this is expected to become even more commonplace.
However, reading the results can be confusing.  Understanding what is normal and what is abnormal can be a little daunting. Here, we give a couple of examples to help you grasp some of the essentials.
 
Who prepares your test results report?

The pathology report is a medical document produced by the pathology practice. All pathology reports contains certain compulsory information that is essential for interpreting your results. Individual pathology laboratories often add their own information and they can vary in the way they present it.

Your tests will have been performed by scientists and/or pathologists.  The pathologist-in-charge who is  a medical doctor who specialises in interpreting test results and observing and evaluating biological changes to make a diagnosis, will be responsible for your report. The pathologist is available to discuss your results with your doctor.
 

All that is red is not always abnormal

 Here is a cumulative report for the full blood count results for a 17-year old girl who first came with her mother to her family doctor in mid-April complaining of very heavy periods and tiredness.  (A cumulative report is one that provides successive test results over a period of time.)

 
results4new-site15.jpg


The results of the blood test taken on the 15th of April are in the first column of results under the date of 15/Apr/14.
 
The abnormal results in this report are clearly marked in red and have a letter after them to show whether they are high (H) or low (L).
 
The second to last column on the right marked "Reference", gives the reference interval (or range) of values against which the results are being compared. It is important that you only use the reference range on the report from the lab that performed the analysis and not from any other source as reference ranges may differ between laboratories for some tests. See Reference ranges and what they mean for more information about how these are calculated and why they differ between laboratories.

The results show a low haemoglobin, low haematocrit, low RCC (red cell count) and low MCV (mean cell volume) all of which are typical of iron deficiency anaemia and which would have been caused by the heavy periods. You will see that there are two other abnormal results – high monocytes on the 18/May/14 and low lymphocytes on the 23/Jul/14.

If you look at the reference ranges you will see that these results are only just outside the limits and both of them are normal on the other two occasions tested. These abnormal results are almost certainly not clinically significant. If you have enough tests done it is very likely that one or more results will fall just outside the reference range by chance. All that is red is not always really abnormal!
 

Reading HbA1c results

Here we have an example of a different type of pathology report, showing results from a 70-year old man with type 2 diabetes.
 

 

These results show changes in HbA1c at about six-monthly intervals. Again, abnormal results are shown in red followed with H for high. The results are followed by information provided by the laboratory to assist with interpretation of the results.

The results show a steady improvement in control of the diabetes with the final HbA1c in the non-diabetic range. This final result may or may not be a good thing in this elderly man. Sometimes if treatment is too strict, blood sugar levels may fall to very low levels at times and this is potentially dangerous. The key here is communication with the doctor and diabetes educator. Target HbA1c levels should be individualised for each patient.
 

Highlighting abnormal results

These lab reports clearly mark abnormal results by printing them in a different colour and following them with an indicator showing whether they are high or low.

Not all lab reports may use this particular convention. For example, abnormal results may not always be highlighted in a different colour. There will however, always be some indicator of abnormality, most commonly an H for high or L for low but some labs may use other marks such as # or * signs to indicate the result is outside the reference range.
 
If in doubt, talk to your doctor as results need to be interpreted in the context of all the other information available.
For more information read Validation, Use and Interpretation

 


Pathology tests can be performed on many different types of samples (also called specimens). Most commonly these are blood, urine, saliva, sputum, faeces, semen and other bodily fluids, as well as tissue.
 
Some tests can be performed on more than one type of sample. For example, glucose testing can be performed on  blood, urine and other samples. The sample used for testing is often determined by the purpose of the particular test. A blood glucose test is used to help diagnose diabetes and monitor blood glucose levels in diabetics while urine glucose is one of the substances tested when a urinalysis is performed, such as when a urinary tract infection or kidney disorder is suspected.
 
Sample collection usually takes place in your doctors’ rooms or in a testing laboratory collection centre where there are trained specimen collectors (phlebotomists). Samples can also be collected at hospitals and day clinics. Samples can even be taken for analysis during a surgical procedure.  Some samples are collected at home either self-collected or by domicillary staff. 
 
Most of the common tests can be collected without an appointment. However, some specialised tests involve complicated collection procedures and must be performed by someone who is specially trained or performed under a doctor’s supervision.
 
Check with your doctor and if you are uncertain, ask the pathology laboratory beforehand about their preferred process. If you are taking a child to have a sample collected, check that the collection centre is equipped to handle paediatric collections. For more information on helping children with sample collection see Tips to help children.
 
Once the sample is taken it will be sent to the testing laboratory. Sometimes it has to reach the lab within a certain time frame to ensure it is valid for testing. Some samples need to be transported under strict conditions to preserve their validity.
 
 

Last Review Date: September 1, 2018

For most people, having blood taken is quick, easy and relatively painless.  Other people feel anxious and need some strategies to help them cope.  Children, the elderly, and people who have a disability may need special help when having a sample taken.

The blood needed for a diagnostic test is usually fairly easy to obtain. It requires a procedure called venipuncture (a term that quite simply means 'puncturing the vein'). The person performing this procedure may be your doctor, a nurse, or someone specially trained in collecting blood samples, a phlebotomist.

If you are feeling anxious or unwell or if you have previously fainted, let the person collecting the sample know. They will generally suggest you lie down. Also, let them know if you are allergic to medical tapes, isopropyl alcohol or latex.

What happens? 

The person collecting your blood sample will insert a small needle into one of your veins.  Usually this is in your arm. Usually, they are able to identify a vein that is easily accessible.  Clenching your fist, when you are asked to, helps make the vein more prominent. They will draw off a small amount of blood and it will run into tubes to send to the laboratory. After taking a sample of your blood, a cotton-wool dressing is taped over the puncture site. you will usually be asked to apply gentle pressure to help the blood clot and prevent swelling and bruising. Leave the dressing in place for a short time (usually 2–4 hours).

The tubes are sent to the laboratory where the blood is analysed according to the test your doctor has requested on the referral form.

If you faint or feel unwell during or after your blood test, you will be asked to stay until you have fully recovered.   If you have a tendency to bleed or bruise, let the collector know.  To help prevent bruising to your puncture site, do not carry anything heavy or undertake strenuous exercise within 24 hours of your blood test.

Will it hurt? 

When the needle is inserted under the skin you might feel a slight sting and there may be additional discomfort when it is withdrawn.

Not flowing well? 

Try drinking water and exercise. Drinking 8 to 10 glasses of liquid a day helps blood flow better and makes the veins more likely to stick up and be found easily, so drink plenty of fluids for a day or two before your test. But, also, remember to follow your doctor’s instructions - some tests require that you do not drink certain liquids prior to the test. You may also want to take a walk while waiting, or on your way to the test, to increase blood flow and keep the veins pumped up (routinely doing hand and arm exercises also helps those requiring frequent testing). Even eating well the day before, if fasting is not required, improves blood flow.

Cold hands? 

Being warm increases your blood circulation, which makes it easier for the phlebotomist to find a vein. If you have difficulty with blood being taken, lying down and warming your hands under a heating pad and blanket usually provide good results.

Difficulty with blood being taken? If you are among those people who have small or difficult-to-access veins, or veins that are scarred or blocked from repeated punctures (chemotherapy patients can have this problem) you may need to work with the person taking your blood to create a process that works well for you. 

What to do afterwards? 

If you experience swelling, bruising, or pain then follow putting ice on the site, using the affected arm as little as possible, and taking an over-the-counter painkiller can help.

Complications following a blood test

A blood test is an invasive procedure because a needle is inserted through the skin to reach a vein. It is however a very safe procedure. Millions of blood tests are performed in Australia every year. 

By far the most common complication is bruising at the site of the needle puncture. This usually appears within 24 hours and may range in size from a small spot to a large purple bruise. It is caused by blood leaking from the punctured vein out into the tissues just under the skin. This can be reduced by using finger pressure on the site for a minute or so after the blood has been taken.

Bruising is more likely if the collection is difficult, if pressure is not maintained on the site for a minute or so, if you are taking anti-clotting medicines such as aspirin or warfarin, if you are an elderly person with fragile veins, or if you exercise your arm soon after the blood test – such as by lifting heavy shopping bags or going to the gym.

While bruising is unsightly it is not dangerous and will slowly disappear over a few days or weeks, depending on how extensive it is. Large bruises may become tender for a few days because the cells that are involved in mopping up the bruise release substances that cause the area to become sore. This is uncommon but again not dangerous. It is part of the healing process. However, if the tenderness is bothering you, you should contact the person or clinic where you had the blood taken.

Very rarely, a small artery, which contains blood at much higher pressure than in veins, will lie unusually close to or underneath a vein. In this situation, the artery may be accidentally punctured. If this happens, you generally become aware of it within a few minutes because a painful deep swelling can be felt and sometimes seen. Tell the collector if this happens as it is necessary to apply firm pressure to the area for at least five minutes.  Almost inevitably you will develop extensive and sometimes spectacular bruising on the lower part of the arm over the next two to three days because the blood leaks to the underside of your arm with gravity. While this may appear dramatic it is not dangerous and will gradually disappear over a couple of weeks.

There are some rare complications but you have to be unlucky to suffer one of these. For example, you may have a tiny branch of one of the sensory nerves of the arm actually running over the surface of the vein. Rarely, the needle will hit this tiny nerve on the way into the vein. This may cause a short, sharp electric-shock type pain. This may be all that happens; however in some cases tingling type of pain may persist for one to four weeks, as the nerve heals. This is inconvenient and may be unpleasant but it eventually heals up.

Another rare complication is for a small clot (or thrombus) to form in the vein at the site where the needle was inserted. This is noticeable as a small firm lump just under the skin. The lump may or may not be tender and will go away over a couple of weeks.

Finally, there is the possibility of infection developing at the site of the needle puncture.  This is extremely rare and would be noticed as developing redness and pain. Most times, discolouration and tenderness around the needle puncture site are the result of bruises that are healing but if you are worried contact the person or clinic where you had the blood collection done or visit your doctor.
 

Other methods of collecting blood samples

Finger-pricks 
A small number of blood tests require just a finger-prick. A very small sample of blood from your capillaries can be obtained from the fingertip or earlobe, or from the heel or big toe of a newborn baby.

Warming the skin with moist, hot compresses for about 10 minutes helps blood flow to the area. The skin is then pricked with a lancet. Because there are more nerves in the finger than in your elbow, you may find that a finger-prick is a bit more painful than venipuncture even though it can seem less intimidating.
 
Arterial samples 
In more critical situations patients admitted into hospital may require blood to be taken from arteries. This procedure, known as an arterial sample, is performed by a doctor or specially trained nurse. A local anaesthetic may be administered and afterwards the nurse applies pressure to stop the bleeding and prevent bruising.

 


 If undergoing pathology tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage here are some general tips on how to make the experience less stressful.
 
Know what to expect

Sometimes, undergoing an unfamiliar pathology procedure can turn out to be a tense and upsetting experience . Emotional distress is more likely when your experience  of a procedure does not match your expectations or  if you have had a bad experience.

Last Review Date: August  1, 2018


For all pathology tests it is very important that your identity is confirmed before someone takes the  sample. For example, directly after a blood test is taken, the blood sample should be labelled by the collector, with your correct details (including your full name and date of birth) before they leave your side.

Before the blood sample for testing is taken it is very important that the person collecting the sample asks you to state and/or spell your full names and date of birth. It is the first step to protecting your safety. If you are accompanying someone who is unable to confirm their identity, such as a child or someone who is incapacitated, then you should be asked to confirm their identity and be asked to provide their correct details. In a hospital setting your identity band will also be checked to ensure they have the right person.

Once your blood sample has been obtained the collector may repeat your details as they write on the blood sample label and/or, hand you the labelled blood sample tube for you to check that your date of birth is correct and your names are spelt correctly. This is another way of ensuring the blood sample tube is labelled correctly and to protect your safety.

If your blood sample has been labelled incorrectly another blood test will have to be taken. Most laboratories will not accept blood samples for transfusion tests that are not correctly labelled or have been altered in any way. This is to protect your safety.
Have you been asked for your full name and date of birth? Remember this is to keep you safe before every blood test.


How  accurate and reliable are pathology tests?

The value of any sort of test can be assessed in two ways; firstly - does the test give the correct answer and secondly - is the test reproducible, in other words, does it give the same answer each time it is used. These are the concepts of accuracy (getting the correct answer) and precision (getting the same answer each time the test is used).  These two concepts are not the same as it is possible to consistently get the wrong answer with a test or to get the correct answer but with a broad spread of results.

 

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The Internet can be a minefield when it comes to healthcare information. Here are some tips on how to pick your way through. Also, there are many so-called health tests that are unscientific (unvalidated) and of little or no use. We provide a list with links to more information.
 
Safe web searching
 
Misleading or inappropriate tests

For an Australian guide to safe searching for health information on the internet check the Better Health Channel guide at:  The Better Health Channel

When your GP requests you have a blood or other type of pathology test it will almost certainly be transported to and analysed in a central laboratory using equipment that can analyse many different tests on the same specimen. The same will apply when you have tests done as part of a hospital visit or inpatient stay. The details of this type of central laboratory testing are described elsewhere (Inside the Lab).

But developments in technology have made it possible to analyse samples using much smaller equipment and these devices can be used by the patient or by healthcare professionals seeking to produce a result almost immediately as part of the consultation. This type of testing is often referred to as Point-of-Care-Testing (POCT) or occasionally as Near Patient Testing or Bedside Testing. POCT can occur at various locations including the home.

Last review date: December 17, 2015


More healthcare is not always better

Choosing Wisely Australia® is part of a global social movement that’s encouraging consumers and health professionals to have better conversations about tests, treatments and procedures. The aim is to reduce unnecessary healthcare for consumers, identifying which practices are helpful and which are not.

The Choosing Wisely initiative is challenging the notion that “more is better” when it comes to healthcare. As you know, modern healthcare systems are complex and there are so many options when it comes to tests, treatments and procedures. However, it’s important to be fully informed and actively involved in making a shared decision with your healthcare professional about the right course of action for you.

Latest advice on healthcare to question 

Choosing Wisely was launched in Australia by NPS MedicineWise in April 2015 and is led by our health profession. Using the latest evidence, health professional colleges, societies and associations are developing lists of recommendations of tests, treatments and procedures that healthcare providers and consumers should question.

Unnecessary practices are a diversion away from effective care. They can lead to more frequent and invasive investigations that can expose you to undue risk of harm, emotional stress, or financial cost. So, it is important you are being an active participant in the decisions being made about your healthcare, which means being knowledgeable about your options.

Have a good conversation with your healthcare provider

Choosing Wisely is encouraging you to have conversations with your doctor, and other healthcare providers, that will help you receive the most appropriate care for you. Information that can assist with your healthcare decisions include:

  • being aware of the benefits and risks of any tests, treatments and procedures being recommended, and
  • understanding the options available to you (some of which may not involve tests or treatments). 

 To help you have these conversations during your appointments, Choosing Wisely has five questions you can ask your healthcare provider. These can help you get the right amount of care and avoid those tests, treatments and procedures that provide little benefit, or could even cause harm.

Five questions to ask your doctor or other healthcare provider
1. Do I really need this test, treatment or procedure?
Tests may help you and your doctor or other health care provider determine the problem. Treatments, such as medicines, and procedures may help to treat it.

2. What are the risks?

Will there be side effects to the test or treatment? What are the chances of getting results that aren’t accurate? Could that lead to more testing, additional treatments or another procedure?
 
3. Are there simpler, safer options?
Are there alternative options to treatment that could work? Lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier foods or exercising more, can be safe and effective options?
 
4. What happens if I don't do anything?
Ask if your condition might get worse — or better — if you don’t have the test, treatment or procedure right away.
 
5. What are the costs?
Costs can be financial, emotional or a cost of your time. Where there is a cost to the community, is the cost reasonable or is there a cheaper alternative?
 
It can be helpful to prepare in advance of your healthcare appointment. In addition to the 5 Questions resource, Choosing Wisely Australia has a helpful factsheet on how to communicate with your healthcare provider. This includes booking a longer appointment if necessary, prioritising the issues you want to discuss and taking a friend or relative with you if you don’t feel confident handling any aspect of the appointment.
 
These resources are available online:

For more information about the Choosing Wisely Australia initiative, visit choosingwisely.org.au
 


InsideRadiology is a source of information about radiology produced especially for Australian health consumers. It contains:
  • Information about radiology tests and procedures that you or a family member may require.
  • Additional clinical and technical information for health professionals about radiology tests and image – guided treatments.
  • Information about roles and training of the different health professionals you may encounter at a radiology practice or in a hospital radiology department.
All information items have been written by radiologists or other health professionals who are experts in their field, in association with expert consumer writers. InsideRadiology was developed by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists and funded by the Australian Commonwealth Department of Health.