Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 453–458 | Cite as

Decoding Laboratory Test Names: A Major Challenge to Appropriate Patient Care

  • Elissa Passiment
  • James L. Meisel
  • John Fontanesi
  • George Fritsma
  • Samir Aleryani
  • Marisa Marques


Clinical laboratory tests have no value if clinicians cannot quickly order and obtain the results they need. We found that efforts to obtain even the most commonly ordered tests are often derailed by excessively complex nomenclature. Ordering the right laboratory tests is critical to diagnosis and treatment, but existing mechanisms for entering lab orders actively interfere with physicians’ efforts to provide good clinical care. Rather than simplifying lab orders, the advent of computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems—generally programmed by non-clinicians—has introduced new and vexing practical problems. Medical laboratories have filled their test menus, whether paper or electronic, with bewildering nomenclature and abbreviations, and have failed to appreciate the dangers of assigning perilously similar names to different tests. The efficient and efficacious patient care demanded by the quality care initiative requires progress beyond traditional solutions, such as convening naming conventions, to the development of innovative software with intelligent, real-time, clinically driven search functions that will allow these programs to help rather than hinder physicians.


laboratory tests nomenclature communication naming protocol health care costs 



This report was supported in part from a contract (GS-10F-0261K) funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The use of trade names in this report is for identification purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This information is the exclusive property of the federal government; however, we are searching for partners to continue development of this information. Please contact the author if you are interested in partnering on this project.

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Meisel has a financial interest in Medvance Solutions, Inc., which facilitates the communication of clinical laboratory results from physicians to patients.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elissa Passiment
    • 1
  • James L. Meisel
    • 2
  • John Fontanesi
    • 3
  • George Fritsma
    • 4
  • Samir Aleryani
    • 5
  • Marisa Marques
    • 6
  1. 1.American Society for Clinical Laboratory ScienceTysons CornerUSA
  2. 2.Hospital Medicine Unit Section of General Internal Medicine Boston University Medical CenterBostonUSA
  3. 3.Center for Management Science in Health University of California, San Diego, Medical SchoolLa JollaUSA
  4. 4.Fritsma Factor, Precision BioLogicDartmouthCanada
  5. 5.Department of PathologyVanderbilt University Medical CenterNashvilleUSA
  6. 6.The University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Laboratory MedicineBirminghamUSA

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