The Management of Test Results in Primary Care: Does an Electronic Medical Record Make a Difference?

Document Type


Publication Date




It is unknown whether an electronic medical record (EMR) improves the management of test results in primary care offices.


As part of a larger assessment using observations, interviews, and chart audits at eight family medicine offices in SW Ohio, we documented five results management steps (right place in chart, signature, interpretation, patient notification, and abnormal result follow-up) for laboratory and imaging test results from 25 patient charts in each office. We noted the type of records used (EMR or paper) and how many management steps had standardized results management processes in place.


We analyzed 461 test results from 200 charts at the eight offices. Commonly grouped tests (complete blood counts, etc) were considered a single test. A total of 274 results were managed by EMR (at four offices). Results managed with an EMR were more often in the right place in the chart (100% versus 98%), had more clinician signatures (100% versus 86%), interpretations (73% versus 64%), and patient notifications (80% vs. 66%) documented. For the subset of abnormal results (n=170 results), 64% of results managed with an EMR had a follow-up plan documented compared to only 40% of paper managed results. Having two or more standardized results management steps did not significantly improve documentation of any step, but no offices had standardized processes for documenting interpretation of test results or follow-up for abnormal results. There was inter-office variability in the successful documentation of results management steps, but 75% of the top performing offices had EMRs.


There was greater documentation of results managed by an EMR, but all offices fall short in notifying patients and in documenting interpretation and follow-up of abnormal test results.