A Systematic Review of Interventions to Follow-Up Test Results Pending at Discharge

Patrick J. Darragh, T. Bodley, A. Orchanian-Cheff, K. G. Shojania, J. L. Kwan, P. Cram

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Patients are frequently discharged from the hospital before all test results have been finalized. Thirty to 40% of tests pending at discharge (TPADs) return potentially actionable results that could necessitate change in the patients’ management, often unbeknownst to their physicians. Delayed follow-up of TPADs can lead to patient harm. We sought to synthesize the existing literature on interventions intended to improve the management of TPADs, including interventions designed to enhance documentation of TPADs, increase physician awareness when TPAD results finalize post-discharge, decrease adverse events related to missed TPADs, and increase physician satisfaction with TPAD management. Methods: We searched Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Cochrane Database of Controlled Clinical Trials and Medline (January 1, 2000–November 10, 2016) for randomized controlled trials and prospective, controlled observational studies that evaluated interventions to improve follow-up of TPADs for adult patients discharged from acute care hospitals or emergency department settings. From each study we extracted characteristics of the intervention being evaluated and its impact on TPAD management. Results: Nine studies met the criteria for inclusion. Six studies evaluated electronic discharge summary templates with a designated field for documenting TPADs, and three of six of these studies reported a significant improvement in documentation of TPADs in discharge summaries in pre- and post-intervention analysis. One study reported that auditing discharge summaries and providing feedback to physicians were associated with improved TPAD documentation in discharge summaries. Two studies found that email alerts when TPADs were finalized improved physicians' awareness of the results and documentation of their follow-up actions. Of the four studies that assessed patient morbidity, two showed a positive effect; however, none specifically measured the impact of their interventions on downstream patient harm due to delayed follow-up of TPADs. Three studies surveyed physicians’ attitudes towards the interventions, of which two studies reported improved physician satisfaction with TPAD management with the implementation of an enhanced discharge template and a notification system when TPADs finalize. Discussion: Discharge summary templates, educational interventions for discharging physicians, and email alerts when TPAD results are finalized show promise in improving management of TPADs. Given the complexity of the processes necessary to ensure follow-up of TPADs, rigorous evaluations of multifaceted interventions (e.g., improved discharge documentation of TPADs combined with email alerts when results become available) is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)750-758
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • communication
  • hospital medicine
  • patient discharge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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