By Barbara Bronson Gray
How would you like it if your accountant or financial adviser sent you a postcard every year only saying "everything is fine"--but please, don't ask to read the details?
For many women, getting a phone call from their doctor's office or a postcard in the mail that tells them their recent mammogram was normal seems like enough, and a cause for celebration. What more could you want?
While the good news is something to celebrate, you really need something more.
You may not realize it, but the radiologist who studies and analyzes your mammogram writes up a full report about what he or she sees. It tells you a lot more than the phone call or postcard you typically get.
For example, one of my reports from a few years ago said:
"Comparison is made to exams back to 10/09 and there is no significant change seen. Moderately dense pseudonodular stroma with occasional benign calcifications bilaterally. No masses, significant calcifications or abnormalities are seen. Negative, no evidence of malignancy."
The report is signed by the physician (so you know precisely who reviewed the mammogram).
Granted, you may not know what all the words in the report mean, but you can look them up if you want to. You might even want to ask your doctor what some of the terms mean at your next visit. How else do you learn?
And if your news was not so good, it's even more important that you read and understand the full report. You should also keep the report in your own file should you or a healthcare provider want to see it in the future.
But getting a copy of your actual mammogram report -- or any other diagnostic tests -- may not be easy.
For example, I had a regular screening mammogram earlier this month.
When I checked in, I cheerfully told the clerk that I would like to be sure I get a copy of the actual report, and not just a form letter. She said, "Your doctor will get the report. We can't send it to you."
So I explained what I've just said above, how useful the actual reports can be and how much you can learn about your own body by reading them.
When she didn't budge, I said, as gently as possible, "And it's the law; it's my report and I'm entitled to get a copy of any report about me."
She was very nice. "Most people don't want them. They come here clueless about why they're here, what test they're getting, why they're getting it. They don't care."
I said, "That's too bad. But what steps do I need to take to get my report?" It turns out I had to walk to the hospital next door, go to medical records, and sign a "request and release form." I did.
It shouldn't require a special conversation or a trip to an adjacent facility to formally request our own reports. When you think about it, why do we even have to complete a special form just to get a report about our own bodies? And why does the report automatically go to the physician but not concurrently to us?
After I had my mammogram, I asked the technician why the reports don't routinely go to the patients at the same time as they are sent to their physicians.
"The doctors don't want that," she said.
"Why do you think that is?" I asked.
"They want to be the ones who have the information first," she said.
And you see, I think patients and physicians should learn about a patient's data at about the same time. To do otherwise suggests that we're not intellectually and emotionally able to handle digesting information about our own bodies.
I think the policy should be reversed. If you don't want the report sent directly to you, you should be the one to have to sign a form. The rest of us should get those reports immediately and routinely.
Our data. Our bodies. Our lives.
Barbara Bronson Gray is an award-winning writer and a nationally recognized health expert. She's a regular contributor to HealthDay.com, preparedpatientforum.com and thirdage.com. Barbara has worked in hospitals, as a nurse and as an administrator, led a major healthcare magazine, created a website for WebMD, and served as a leader of global communications for Amgen, the world's largest biotech company. She continues to write and speak about healthcare and has a communications consultancy. Follow her on Twitter: @bbgrayrn.