Waiting for ultrasound scan results

Waiting for the results of an ultrasound scan can be stressful.  Let’s face it; waiting for any test results can be stressful especially if we have been unwell and worrying about what the results might tell us.

In this blog post we will convey two personal stories about the communication challenges in delivering ultrasound scan results.  For the purpose of this blog, the individual names have been changed, to Amy and Sally. They both share their personal experiences with delays and lack of clarity in receiving their results.  The emotional impact these situations can have on patients is not to be underestimated.  Healthcare professionals and administrative personnel need to step onto the patient’s planet to empathise with the situation the patient find themselves in.

Let us start by looking at Amy’s story.

Amy’s story

Amy’s story underscores the unintended consequences of delayed communication.

Amy was waiting for the results of an ultrasound scan, to rule out cancer.  She had the scan on a Friday morning, at her GP practice.  On the following Monday, she received a phone call from a member of the admin team at her GP practice.  The ultrasound scan report was ready, but the GP was on holiday and he wanted to see her personally with her results.  Could she make an appointment on the following Monday to see her GP first thing?

Amy admits to feeling some anxiety, because clearly something has been see on the scan.  But, her partner admitted to being more anxious about the test results.  When she did get to see her GP on the Monday morning, he explained that one of his colleagues had read the test results in his absence and thought the results were too complicated for an admin person to relay on the telephone and her GP should speak to her.  Amy didn’t have cancer which was a relief and was simply told what she knew already.  So, the whole visit was a waste of time, not to mention a week of added emotional burden.

Now let us turn our attention to Sally’s story.

Sally’s story

Sally’s story illustrates the confusion that can arise when patients are not promptly informed about their results.

On the 2nd January Sally had a type of ultrasound scan on her liver, called a fibro scan.  As she hadn’t received the results of her scan, she phoned her GP practice two weeks later.  She was told by an admin person that the GP did have her results but that they ‘wanted to look into it.’

Sally didn’t understand what this meant.  When Sally questioned this, the receptionist explained that the doctor probably needed some time to consult with the Specialist, and this was the reason why they hadn’t called her.  Consequently, Sally was left feeling more worried about the results and confused about what would happen next and when.

We wonder if you have experienced similar experiences or experienced uncertainty as you wait for some news. When asked to consider what they wanted healthcare professionals and other patients to learn from their experiences, the following considerations were raised:

What do we want healthcare professionals to learn?

  • Imagine yourself in this situation.  How would you want to be communicated with?
  • Healthcare professionals and administrative teams need to be more considerate and transparent about how long patients should wait for ultrasound/other scan results and explain that sometimes they might need to refer to experts for advice, before speaking to the patient.
  • Put yourselves in the patient’s shoes and consider the emotional impact that waiting for scan results might induce.  You can’t take away that fear, but with simple explanations, you can explain what might happen and when.
  • Timely and empathic communication is essential.
  • Remember, that whilst you know the processes, it is not always clear to patients.
  • The next time you receive a patient’s results, think about Amy’s and Sally’s experiences.  Consider what information you could share with the patient at that moment.  For example, the admin person speaking to Amy could have said ; we have the results and I have been told there is nothing to worry about but the GP wants to speak to you in person when he comes back from holiday.  Transparency from the start, could have changed their experiences for the better.
  • If you are interested in reading more about ways to improve communication in healthcare you can find our blog post here.

What do I want other patients to learn from my story?

  • Waiting for results of tests and scans can be stressful, especially when these test results were done to rule out a serious illness, like cancer.  It doesn’t help when there are delays in getting the results either.  BUT remember it is normal to feel anxious.
  • There can be lots of reasons why there are delays in receiving your results and most of the time, there may be nothing to worry about.  Often, it is because the person who requested the tests, needs time to review the results properly.  Other times, it may be because the GP for example, is waiting on someone else’s opinion to interpret a piece of information, or to know how best to proceed.  It can take two or three people to review the scan results and come up with a decision – which can take time.
  • It is important to remember, that at the end of the day, your healthcare professionals are trying to make sure they have got all the information they need, so they can give you this at once.  They aren’t always very good though, at thinking how any delay might impact on you.  This doesn’t mean that they are coming from a bad place.
  • Sometimes, there are a backlog of scan results to be reviewed and reported on, which can slow things down in terms of your GP receiving the results.  Don’t be afraid to call your GP practice or the secretary of the person who requested your scan to chase them up for your results.  Maybe give them a couple of weeks first.
  • If you are worried about cancer, for example, online organisations like Macmillan Support and the  Cancer Research UK is helpful too.

Share your story with us, it might make a difference

Have you experienced something similar?

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