by Richard Sagall, MD

This essay first appeared in Pediatrics for Parents ( Volume 30, issue 7-8

The doctor saw you or your child and ordered some tests. It may have been a blood panel, a check on urine, or perhaps an X-ray. As you leave the office the doctor says, “I’m sure all will be normal, but I want to be sure. I will call you if there are any problems. Remember, no news is good news!”

You leave optimistic everything will turn out fine. Then, a few days later you begin to wonder if all the tests came out normal. You haven’t heard from the doctor, but then remember she said she would call if there were a problem.

The real issue is that the “no news is good news” approach is all wrong. It leaves the patient dangling and is open to all sorts of errors and opportunities for miscommunication. Let’s look at what no news could really mean.

1. The specimen never made it to the lab. You know the blood was drawn or the urine was collected, but you don’t know if the specimen was actually sent to the lab. Maybe the specimen was mislabeled or lost. And you never hear about

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