Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to BACKGROUND: The testing and result communication process in primary care is complex. Its successful completion relies on the coordinated efforts of a range of staff in primary care and external settings working together with patients. Despite the importance of diagnostic testing in provision of care, this complexity renders the process vulnerable in the face of increasing demand, stretched resources and a lack of supporting guidance.METHODS: We conducted a series of focus groups with patients and staff across four primary care practices using process-improvement strategies to identify and understand areas where either unnecessary delay is introduced, or the process may fail entirely. We then worked with both patients and staff to arrive at practical strategies to improve the current system.RESULTS: A total of six areas across the process were identified where improvements could be introduced. These were: (1) delay in phlebotomy, (2) lack of a fail-safe to ensure blood tests are returned to practices and patients, (3) difficulties in accessing results by telephone, (4) role of non-clinical staff in communicating results, (5) routine communication of normal results and (6) lack of a protocol for result communication.CONCLUSIONS: A number of potential failures in testing and communicating results to patients were identified, and some specific ideas for improving existing systems emerged. These included same-day phlebotomy sessions, use of modern technology methods to proactively communicate routine results and targeted training for receptionists handling sensitive data. There remains an urgent need for further work to test these and other potential solutions.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ quality & safety

Publication Date





681 - 690