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Perspectives

The (mis)interpretation of diagnostic test results

PAUL KERTES

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Abstract

Diagnostic test results should always be interpreted with consideration of the clinical context and should not be assumed to be absolutely accurate. Misinterpretation can be minimised by the use of appropriate tests and being aware of the limitations of tests and the types of errors that occur.

Key Points

  • The general rule with laboratory test results is to consider if the results t the clinical context. Never assume a test result is absolutely accurate, as misleading or frankly incorrect results are common.
  • If there is any doubt about a test result, consider repeating the test and/or seek expert advice.
  • Have a clear diagnostic question in mind before ordering any diagnostic investigation. An inappropriate test will not contribute to resolving the diagnostic dilemma.
  • Be aware of the inherent limitations of the chosen investigation, and select the optimal service provider for that test.
  • Always treat the patient and not just the test result; a careful history and physical examination in the first instance is mandatory yet often overlooked.

    Picture credit: © BSIP/Diomedia.com

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