Positive or negative? Some patients may receive conflicting COVID-19 test results by mail

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After getting tested for COVID-19, some Austin residents are getting mixed signals when it comes to their test results.

“It changes certainly the way you are living your life, and it affects what you can and can’t do,” one viewer told KXAN after getting two letters with conflicting results.

He had been feeling sick, so he went and got tested. While waiting on his results, he self-quarantined. Days later, the first letter arrived stating his test results were negative. With no symptoms and negative results, he was cleared to go back to work.

“Of course, you feel good. Then, the next day I get off work. I’m driving home — I check the mail, get another letter from CommUnity Care, and it’s the exact same print out as the day before,” he said. “But it says my test results came back positive.”

“It’s an uneasy feeling,” he said.

On Friday, officials with CommUnity Care confirmed some of patients may have received duplicate letters, featuring differing results.

They explained their staff will call or text patients with their results, but also recently began working with an outside company to send an additional letter with results and more information to the patient. After being contacted by KXAN Investigators about the confusion, they said they are now working with that vendor to determine how many people received erroneous letters.

Many local employers are requiring negative test results in writing before letting employees return to work.

MORE: Patient tests negative for COVID-19, but says it took 10 more days to get results in writing for employer

A spokesperson for CommUnity Care emphasized the importance of patients being able to trust their results and respond accordingly. They emphasized this issue does not reflect any inaccuracies with the tests themselves.

“If people don’t trust their results, that means they could go out into the community,” they said.

They said the original call or text patients received with their results was correct, despite any conflicting information stated in the letters.

They also said they are calling any patients who received results on June 23, but they encouraged anyone with questions to call their COVID-19 Hotline at (512) 978-8775.

The viewer who reached to KXAN, however, said he missed that initial call, so he was relying on the letters for guidance.

“The million dollar question is: which letter is correct?” he asked.

Health care attorney Jeff Drummond said as testing quantities increase and the use of telemedicine becomes more prevalent, providers have to be more careful.

“Medical practices are starting to get into new types of technology they are not used to and we are going to see some mistakes happen because of that,” Drummond said.

He said the important thing was how a provider responds when a mistake is made.

“If the mistake involved the wrong person getting the information — in other words if my information was sent to you or yours to me, that’s actually a HIPAA breach. If the information is just wrong, that’s less of an issue in terms of how to you fix it,” he explained. “Giving out bad medical advice is potentially problematic, but if it is bad medical advice that went out because of some type of error or typo computer glitch, then that’s less of a breach of their obligations.”  

The viewer who reached out to KXAN said he understands mistakes happen, but just wants more clarity on how patients in his situation should proceed.

“It’s a sense of false clarity, you know,” he said.

On Friday evening, this viewer told KXAN he received what appeared to be an automated text from CommUnity Care, telling him to look out for a call in the next few days to clear things up.

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