AIMS: To assess the current performance of the clinical biochemistry service provided to general practitioners, with particular attention to result turnround times, and to identify and improvements required. METHODS: Postal questionnaire survey of general practitioners in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets who used the clinical biochemistry laboratory of the Royal London Hospital. A flow analysis study of turnround times for general practitioner samples was also performed. RESULTS: Responses to the questionnaire showed that although 82% of general practitioners thought the current quality of service provided was better than fair, the actual turnround times achieved were longer than the acceptable times required. There was also a strong demand (> 66% of responders) for additional information-such as highlighting of abnormal results-to be provided with results. There was wide variability between practitioners in their use of the laboratory (from none to > 800 requests per year), with no apparent correlation to practice size. Of the repertoire of tests requested, a surprisingly high percentage (14.3%) were for thyroid function. Flow analysis of turnround times for thyroid function tests showed that problems lay not with the time taken for analysis (only 7.8% of the total turnround time) but with the pre- and postanalytical phases, that is, the sample collection and results delivery service. CONCLUSIONS: Increasing the proportion of health care delivered in the primary care sector will inevitably increase the requirement for pathology services. Improvements in the specimen collection and results delivery service to general practitioners are needed to meet their expectations. It remains to be determined whether increased investment in these aspects of laboratory service would result in improved patient care in the primary sector.
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