Negative Testing, A Positive

Many times patients ask me about negative test results.  They feel like they have wasted their time, or mine.  With X-rays they may feel as though they wasted their money and unnecissarily exposed themselves to radiation (Here’s a discussion on that).  Ultimately the question is what good is a negative test?

Many tests that doctors do are actually done to rule things out.  For example X-rays are standard proceedure when you experience trauma such as a car accident.  Yet most of the time those X-rays come back negative.  That’s great!  That means that the pain you’re experiencing is not from a fracture.  We have just ruled out the big scary thing and can now take off the neck brace or what ever and treat you.  It doesn’t tell us what you do have, but we’ve just narrowed the field.

When a patient comes in with a serious complaint that could be something bad ruling it out is always your first concern.  For example even if there’s only a 2% chance that what you have is cancer you want to know.  There’s a 98% chance that you could go home take vitamin C and be fine because it was just a cough.  But, there will always be that question in your mind, what if it is cancer?  Testing to rule that out allows patients and doctors to sleep at night.  So, the next time your test results come back negative, heave a sigh of relief.  Know that we’ll keep looking to find what is wrong with you, but at least it’s not that.


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