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6 things you should expect after you have a test 

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Getting results for important medical tests can sometimes feel like a waiting game. Try these strategies to get your information faster. 

You just got some blood work done at your doctor’s office. They told you that you’d get your results in the next few days. But you can’t mark “the next few days” down on your calendar. And that’s when the worry sets in. Are they actually going to call you back with your results? Do you need to call?  

Waiting for important test results is “inherently stressful,” says Joshua Jacobs, MD. He’s a national medical director for Optum. You care about your health, and you want to know that you’re either OK or, if you have a health issue, what treatment you need immediately. 

But you can avoid a lot of that worry by being prepared before and after you get tested. It boils down to knowing the right questions to ask your doctor to set yourself up for success. Start with these six tips.  

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Tip #1: Ask questions before you get tested

Let’s say it’s the day of your test. And your provider walks into the room to get started. It’s a good idea to spend a few minutes asking them about what happens after the test. Here are some questions to keep in mind:  

  • When will I know my test results? It often takes two or three days to hear back about scans and lab tests, and up to a week to hear back on a biopsy, says Steffanie Campbell, MD. She’s the chief of internal medicine for Optum in Houston, Texas.  
  • How will I get my test results? There is no standard way of getting test results from your doctor, explains Dr. Campbell. Some medical practices will call patients with their test results, no matter the outcome. Others upload the results to an online patient portal and only call if a test suggests an issue. If your doctor or health care provider uploads your results to your patient portal, they may also include notes, she says.  
  • Who do I call if I don’t hear back? Contact the doctor’s office. It could be your practice only gets in touch if there’s something to report. So if you haven’t gotten an answer in what you consider to be a reasonable amount of time, try making a follow-up in-person or virtual appointment. Advocate for yourself, suggests Dr. Jacobs. “Go ahead and set up a telephone appointment with a clinician such as a nurse or doctor to talk through your results.”  

Tip #2: Try to stay calm while you’re waiting for results

Getting medical tests is extremely common — billions of lab tests are processed every year in the United States.1 But that doesn’t make waiting for the results any less stressful.  

Physical exercise is one good way to cut stress and feel less anxious. Head outside for a walk or bike ride, or try yoga or tai chi.2 Deep breathing exercises or progressive relaxation can also help, suggests Dr. Jacobs. Or maybe you find it relaxing to knit, garden or read a good book. Pick something that works for you. 

Tip #3: Avoid being your own doctor

You might get your test results before your doctor has had a chance to review them.3 Don’t jump to conclusions or to try to figure out what they mean on your own. 

So, perhaps you see some test results in your patient portal. And maybe they come in before your provider has looked at them. You likely won’t be able to interpret them properly. Plus, you might be tempted to search the names online. And that can spell trouble. 
“Often people will go online and all sorts of things pop up, and that can be very alarming,” Dr. Jacobs says.  

 Even if you find reliable information online related to your test results, figuring out what everything means (or doesn’t mean) can be complicated. “Sometimes results are written in a way that is not easy to interpret unless you have medical training,” Dr. Jacobs says.  

If you do go online, stick with reputable sites that summarize medical conditions and test results. Look for those with a “.gov,” “.org,” “.edu” and in some cases, “.com,” at the end of the web address.   

For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, cdc.gov, would be a good source of information. So would the website for the American Heart Association, heart.org, and the American Cancer Society, cancer.org. And your doctor’s patient portal may be a great resource too, which would likely be located at a “.com” address. And, of course, there’s Optum.com. 

Plus, the same number on the same test can mean different things, depending on the person. That’s because you have a particular health history and circumstances. So waiting for your doctor’s feedback is important. 

Our team of Optum doctors make it a priority to get your test results as quickly as possible. Find an Optum doctor

Tip #4: Be sure your doctor clearly explains your results

One of your doctor’s main jobs is to help you understand your health. That includes explaining certain test results. 

“If there’s something you don’t understand outright, ask,” Dr. Campbell says. Your doctor can explain it another way. “There are no stupid questions, especially when it comes to your health.” 

Some questions you may want to ask your doctor after getting your test results include:4 

  • What do my test results mean, and are they abnormal?  
  • What do these letters, numbers or words mean in my results?  
  • Do I need treatment based on my results? 
  • Should I schedule a follow-up visit (or visits), and, if so, when? 
  • Will I need to have further tests?  
  • Do I need to see a specialist? 

And if your Optum doctor does refer you to a specialist, they will choose a provider in the Optum network who they stand behind. Feel free to ask why they picked that specialist and how they will coordinate your care.  

Tip #5: Repeat back what you’ve just heard 

A good way to be sure you fully understand your provider’s explanation and instructions is to repeat what you heard back to them, Dr. Campbell says. For example, “What you’re saying is … ” or “What we’re going to do next is … ” That way, your doctor can fill in the blanks on any questions you may have. And both you and your doctor will know you’re on the same page. 

Another way is to ask for a printout summarizing everything that went on during the visit. If you’re an Optum patient, you can find a summary in your patient portal after every visit. 

Tip #6: Stay on top of your situation 

At Optum, your doctor will guide you through your next steps. But be sure to follow up with them if what you thought was supposed to happen doesn’t. For example, you may be waiting to receive a call from an imaging center to set up another scan.  

“Patients should always take some ownership,” Dr. Campbell says. “It is my responsibility as the provider to make sure I follow up. But if something is recommended, they should make sure that we get things completed.” 

It’s always good to stay in touch with your primary care physician (PCP), no matter what the issue is. That helps build your relationship and makes keeping on top of your health a team effort. That’s the Optum way.  


  1. Testing.com. Learn more about lab tests. Accessed November 28, 2023. 
  2. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Relaxation techniques for stress. Last reviewed August 11, 2022. Accessed November 28, 2023. 
  3. Testing.com. Deciphering your lab report. Last modified January 27, 2021. Accessed November 28, 2023. 
  4. Testing.com. How to talk to your doctor about your lab tests. Last modified on March 12, 2021. Accessed November 28, 2023. 

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