Why You May Need a Healthcare Provider's Appointment to Get Your Lab Results

Healthcare providers sometimes ask you to make an appointment to get the results of routine medical tests. That might feel like a waste of your time and money.

However, sometimes a face-to-face visit is warranted. This article will look at when it's needed, when it's not, and how to set expectations with your healthcare provider.

A doctor and his patient in consultation
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When You Need an Appointment

Healthcare providers order lab tests for four main reasons:

  • To diagnose a condition
  • To see if a treatment is effective
  • To track the progression of a chronic illness
  • To check for a recurrence of a treated condition

The test results may be simple and straightforward—say, positive or negative. Or they may be more nuanced or open to interpretation.

Even if the news is "good," it may be important for the healthcare provider to explain what the results do and don't mean. That's especially true if you're going through the diagnostic process or it's a follow-up for a treated condition.

Getting test results may prompt new questions, which you can ask at this appointment.

Initial Diagnosis

News of a new diagnosis should usually be given face-to-face. That's because your health is at risk in some way. That could be from an infection, cancer, genetic disorder, or chronic health condition like heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

An appointment gives you an opportunity to talk about:

  • The diagnosis
  • What it means
  • Your treatment options

It can also help avoid confusion over what the results mean. Sometimes you need to know more than just "positive" or "negative."

For example, if you test negative for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), you may assume you don't have it. All it really means, though, is that the test didn't detect the virus. You may have just been tested too early—before your immune system had a chance to make the antibodies the test detects.

At an appointment, your healthcare provider can explain options and tell you whether more testing is needed.

Plus, if a disease is contagious, your provider will want to talk in person about how to help you avoid future risk and protect other people.

Telehealth Appointments

Telehealth appointments may be a good compromise between delivering results in person versus a phone call, letter, or secure message. You still have to pay for it, but it can save you a lot of time.

Monitoring Chronic Illness

With chronic illness, follow-ups are often necessary to monitor the illness or see if a treatment is working.

For example, if you have prediabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), you may not need treatment right away. The first steps may be to use diet and exercise to stop or reverse the disease.

Follow-up labs can tell you whether your strategies are working. Meeting in-person to go over results helps you both see what's happening and figure out why. It's also an opportunity to discuss starting treatment.

If you're taking medications for chronic conditions, regular in-person appointments can help you stick to the treatment regimen. You can also discuss side effects and dosage changes that may be needed.

For diseases that can relapse, such as cancer and some autoimmune diseases, regular visits may help identify and treat a relapse early.

Recap

Sometimes, it's appropriate to deliver lab results at a face-to-face appointment. That's true when you're first being diagnosed with something or managing a chronic illness.

When You Don't Need an Appointment

In some cases, a visit isn't all that necessary. Often, routine blood or imaging tests are part of preventive care. That includes things like cholesterol tests, mammograms, or Pap smears.

If results are normal, they can usually be delivered via a phone call, letter, or secure message.

It is always okay to ask your healthcare provider about treatment guidelines or why a test or appointment is being recommended.

Even with potentially serious chronic conditions, like HIV or diabetes, once your condition is under control, you may only need to see a healthcare provider once a year.

Even with certain types of cancer, including colorectal and prostate cancer, there's little evidence quarterly visits reduce your relapse risk or improve survival rates.

In some cases, testing once or twice a year may be enough. It depends on your age, health, and the type and stage of your cancer.

Recap

You may not need an appointment for routine labs or images that are part of preventive care. Chronic conditions that are well managed shouldn't require many appointments, either.

Setting Expectations

When first meeting with a new healthcare provider, ask about their test result policies. In some cases, they want you to get tested a week or two before an appointment. Or you may be tested during or after your appointment and get the results later.

If you're tested during or after your appointment, ask:

  • Do all test results require a follow-up appointment?
  • How long does it take to get the test results?
  • Does your staff contact patients regardless of results?
  • If results are shared by phone, email, or online, how does the office ensure they will only be shared with me or my designees?

You can then contact your insurance provider to get a clearer understanding of their policies. Most insurers don't want to pay for unnecessary appointments. They may intervene if follow-up requests seem excessive or inappropriate.

Be wary of any office that says they only contact you "if there is a problem." First, you have the right to see the results of every test you undergo. Second, mistakes happen. You won't know whether you're fine or the results were somehow lost or not properly communicated to you.

If the office says they can't deliver results by phone because it violates HIPAA privacy laws, they're wrong. They can do so as long they verify it's you. They can also leave a voicemail message requesting you return the call.​

While it's true that emailing you results could violate HIPAA laws, practices can send electronic messages (or post results to a patient portal) if they have a secure means of doing so.

If you decide to use the healthcare provider, be sure to review the Terms of Agreement included in any intake documents you sign. And ask for a copy to keep in your files.

Summary

Follow-up appointments for going over test results are appropriate if you're just being diagnosed, monitoring treatment effectiveness, or trying to manage chronic illness.

You probably don't need one for preventive tests or if your condition is well controlled.

Ask your healthcare provider about how test results will be delivered. If follow-up appointments are expected, check with your health insurance to make sure they're covered.

A Word From Verywell

If a healthcare provider asks you to schedule an appointment to go over test results and it doesn't seem necessary, ask why. Keep an open mind and remember they're meant to be a partner in your care. Just because a result is normal doesn't mean that the visit is unwarranted.

On the other hand, if the results only require a minute or two of the provider's time, it's fair to ask for the results by phone, mail, or secure message. In such cases, the medical professional has no right to withhold them from you or require you to pay for a visit in order to get them.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I get lab results quickly?

    Many healthcare providers use online medical chart systems. They're an easy way to view detailed test results as soon as they’re available. You can also:

    • Ask when results will be ready and call that day or the next.
    • Make a follow-up appointment beforehand if the results might be something you need to discuss. 
    • Double-check that the imaging center or lab has your provider’s correct information on file.
  • Do healthcare providers call you if test results show bad news?

    They may. If results are concerning, they may call you or have a receptionist call to schedule an appointment. A healthcare provider may also call to assure you everything is okay or discuss any needed follow-up tests.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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