Laboratory Results That Should Be Ignored

Dirk M. Elston, MD


October 11, 2006


There are instances in which the results of a laboratory test must be reported, but should be ignored by the clinician. Some are accurate findings without clinical significance, but most are spurious results caused by an error somewhere in the testing cycle. Any abnormal laboratory result should raise 2 basic questions: First, what is the clinical relevance of the result? Second, what actions should be taken? This article examines the range of reasons why some laboratory results should be ignored. It examines the causes of spurious results and examines mechanisms to improve communication to convey such reports to the clinician in a more meaningful fashion. The ultimate goals are improved patient outcomes and better utilization of resources.

Specific issues to be addressed in this commentary include the need to expand quality programs to address the entire testing cycle, root causes of spurious lab results in clinical and anatomic pathology laboratories, the critical involvement of clinicians in the quality improvement process, and the role of interpretative reporting to reduce medical errors related to spurious results. Many spurious results will not be identified by quality programs that address only the analytic phase. Joint efforts by clinicians and laboratorians can improve detection of errors and reduce the potential for patient harm and waste.


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