How to Get Thyroid Lab Tests Done Quickly and Accurately

Waiting for lab work can be very uncomfortable

Blood taking for a test.
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There's nothing worse than arriving at a lab in the morning, having fasted for your blood tests, only to discover there's a long line of people ahead of you, and you'll have to wait hours at the lab before you even get into get processed, much less have your test. Many of us have ended up sitting there for hours, hungry, craving a cup of coffee, and wishing that we were anywhere but sitting there waiting for lab work.

Recently, I had the best experience having my blood drawn. Usually when I'm headed off to my local lab to have my blood work done before my next check up with my doctor, I pack as if I'm going on a long weekend. I bring work and things to read, and resign myself to waiting for several hungry, caffeine-free hours as the staff try to manage the hordes of people waiting for blood tests.

But this time I was able to be in and out in less than 10 minutes.

How did I do it? Here are some tips.

1. Make an Appointment

If you're having blood work done at a lab or facility that does blood, urine and other medical tests, and it has an option to just walk in, or make an appointment... make an appointment! Don't assume that you can just walk in and that you'll get taken care of quickly. If you book an appointment you will move to the front of the line with the others who have booked a time slot.

Booking an appointment is usually very easy. The two major labs in the United States, LabCorps and Quest, both have easy online scheduling that you can use from a home computer, or even by smartphone.

If you use Quest Diagnostics, you can also schedule by telephone. To make an appointment: call 888-277-8772, and to find a location call 800-377-8448.

2. Stop Using Paper Lab Requisitions

Stop bringing in a the form with the tests checked off -- also known as the paper lab requisition. If your doctor offers to electronically order your tests -- using what is sometimes referred to as a "bridge" or a "portal" -- allow them to use it.

This allows your doctor's office to enter the desired tests and codes right into the laboratory's system themselves. This has several benefits:

  • Accuracy: Your doctor can ensure that the test he or she wants to order is the test that will be performed. You won't get a "Total T3" test result when the doctor ordered Free T3. Desired tests won't be accidentally left off or keyed in incorrectly.
  • Speed at the laboratory: If you go in with a paper lab order, the clerk at the lab has to enter all the tests, and often look up the codes for each test. This can take quite a while to complete. And if you, like me, have a doctor that orders a number of tests for an annual or semiannual check -- my last blood work included a variety of thyroid tests, including Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Free T4, Free T3, TPO antibodies, Reverse T3, a full metabolic panel, Vitamin D, magnesium, and many other tests -- it can be a lengthy process. In addition to saving time, you also won't have to stand there having to explain have that your doctor ordered Reverse T3 and not Total T3, or deal with a clerk who has never heard of a leptin test, or clarify which kind of cholesterol panel the doctor wanted.

    My doctor's office had used their "bridge" to the lab, to enter my tests. So when I showed up, they had my lab order already in their system, and ready to go on the spot.

    One tip: be sure to ask your doctor for the requisition number for your tests, and have that with you in case you need it.

    If your doctor is not already using an electronic connection to a laboratory, encourage them to do so. You can send them to information about these services at the two key labs:

    3. If Using Paper Lab Requisitions Make Sure Your Doc Includes Codes for That Lab

    I was chatting with the phlebotomist, and she said that one thing that drives the folks at the lab nuts is when doctors just check off boxes on a requisition form for lab tests, but the form does not include the actual Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for the tests. She said that if a doctor's office includes the codes, it greatly increases the speed of processing a paper requisition at the lab, and also ensures greater accuracy in the tests. It makes sense.

    Just checking at LabCorp's site, for example, I can see that there are different CPT test codes for thyroid tests, including: Thyroxine (T4), Free; Thyroxine (T4) Free Dialysis/Mass Spectrometry; Triiodothyronine (T3), Free; Thyroid-stimulating Hormone (TSH) and Free T4; Triiodothyronine (T3), Free, Dialysis and LC/MS-MS; Thyroxine (T4); Thyroxine (T4) and Thyroid-stimulating Hormone (TSH); Thyroxine-binding Globulin (TBG), Serum; Triiodothyronine (T3); Thyroid-stimulating Hormone (TSH); and Reverse T3, Serum, among others. If your doctor puts down the CPT code for the desired tests, the clerk does not have to wade through the whole list figuring out which code to apply...and you save time.

    A Few More Tips While You're at the Lab

    • Be sure you know if your doctor wants you to fast, and whether you should take your medication before the tests are performed, or if he/she wants you to wait until after your blood work.
    • If you have a particularly prominent vein, or a vein that makes you an "easy stick," point it out to the phlebotomist ahead of time.
    • Schedule your thyroid test early in the day. You'll get the most accurate picture of your thyroid status. Also, if you're fasting, you'll be able to eat and drink that much sooner.
    • Stay hydrated before the blood test. More water in your bloodstream helps make it easier for the phlebotomist to find a vein.
    • If you find the needles used for regular blood painful, or you know that it's hard for a phlebotomist to easily access your veins -- aka, you're a "hard stick" -- ask for a butterfly needle.
    • If you tend to get woozy about it, don't look at the blood being drawn into the test tubes. It can make some people dizzy or even faint.
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