After a pathology sample has been collected by a phlebotomist or pathology collector, which is the health worker responsible for collecting biological samples for testing, the sample will be sent to a laboratory. How long it takes for your healthcare professional to receive your pathology results, also known as the test’s ‘turnaround time’, will vary depending on the type of pathology test that is requested and the circumstances. Non-urgent tests might be placed on the next available routine run which can be on the same or the following day. Typically, your pathology results can be expected within 2-3 days.
Urgent tests may in some cases take only a few minutes to process, with results available within 24 hours. Some pathology tests on the other hand can take days or weeks, such as specialised tests, culturing bacteria or samples being sent overseas.
In most cases you will need to discuss test results with the healthcare professional who ordered your tests, so you may need to wait a little after the pathology lab has processed your tests in order to receive results during a medical consultation.
The process for receiving your test results and how long it takes may vary depending on the type of test you are having, your pathology provider and the protocols of the healthcare service referring you for the test. You can ask your healthcare professional about their procedures and can ask when tests are ordered for you how long the results are likely to take.
Point Of Care testing
Point of care testing is when the pathology tests are performed where healthcare is near or at the site of patient care. This provides results immediately which can be used in determining patient care for those who are critically ill in intensive care and emergency units or in rural and remote communities with less access to a pathology laboratory.
Getting a copy of your pathology results
You are legally entitled to a copy of your pathology results if you request it. However, your healthcare practitioner will be experienced in understanding and interpreting the results, therefore it’s important for them to provide insight into what they mean for your wellbeing. To get a copy of your results, simply request them from your healthcare practitioner when you discuss the results with them.
You may also be able to obtain a copy of your test results by contacting the relevant pathology laboratory directly if needed. Some laboratories may approach releasing results to patients differently, including notifying your healthcare practitioner of this request. This is because pathology results can sometimes be confusing, difficult to interpret or potentially even distressing depending on the context.
If your results are late
If your results are late, do not fret. The time it takes for pathology samples to be processed can vary. Non-urgent samples may run in later batches, and further investigations or second opinions may cause the results to be delayed further. A complex cancer investigation, for example, may take weeks to process. Other times, samples may be tested multiple times or in specialist labs.
If you have not received your results, you may want to contact your healthcare practitioner to understand when you should expect them and ask any further questions you may have.
If you want your specimen back
Once a pathology laboratory processes or analyses a sample, it becomes their property. If you would like the specimen returned, however, you are able to request the lab to return it.
To do this, speak to your healthcare professional or relevant laboratory. Pathology laboratories will generally retain specimens for a period time ranging from several days to decades, which is specified by law. After this period, they will destroy the sample for privacy and hygiene reasons unless you request for the sample to be returned. The laboratory may charge a fee for the sample’s retrieval and processing procedures.