Medical tests

Quality use of medical tests is a core skill for healthcare professionals as not all tests add value. Develop your skills with this growing range of short practical modules.


Medical testing forms a significant component of health management. Healthcare professionals are routinely presented with scenarios where clinical diagnosis and therapeutic decisions are made based on medical test results.

These interactive modules present everyday clinical scenarios where analysis of medical test results might be encountered. The modules equip you with the knowledge and skills to determine the appropriate test and to effectively interpret the results.

Understanding reference ranges and identifying significant change

In this module you will learn practical ways in which you can assess the clinical significance of abnormal test results and of changes in test results over time. You will meet Jill whose case illustrates the scenarios where such problems can arise. Duration: 20 minutes.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this learning module you should be able to:

  • Define what is meant by a medical test reference range in order to critically interpret test results.
  • Identify clinical situations where normal (or abnormal) test results are not considered normal (or abnormal) for the individual.
  • List possible contributors to abnormal test results.
  • Understand the concepts of rational test ordering and quality use of medical tests when ordering medical tests for a patient.

Interpretation of medical tests

Before any medical test is ordered, it is important to consider:

  • Is the test actually needed, and will it change patient management?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there simpler, safer options?
  • What happens if the patient does not have the test?
  • What are the costs?

This module will help you to assess whether a diagnostic medical test is likely to add value to patient care. You will be introduced to – or reminded of – skills that will help you to assess the diagnostic value of medical tests. Not all medical tests will add value. Unnecessary tests often lead to further invasive investigations that can in turn lead to unnecessary risks, patient anxiety and financial waste. Duration: 30 minutes

Learning outcomes

On completion of this learning module you should be able to:

  • Outline factors to consider when choosing the most appropriate medical tests, including sensitivity, specificity and pre-test probability.
  • Apply knowledge of the epidemiology of disease and findings from clinical assessment to estimate the prior probability of relevant differential diagnoses and inform the choice of further medical tests.


This module focuses on screening in general practice, using the common clinical presentation of a routine health check as the mechanism to explore rational testing.

The extension activity explores the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) and its role in the diagnosis of colorectal cancer. Duration: 20 minutes.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this learning module you should be able to:

  • Describe the principles of an effective screening program.
  • Incorporate evidence-based screening recommendations into individual care.
  • Request and interpret screening tests in the context of individual patients’ ages, relevant past and family histories, and clinical presentations.
  • Apply the principles of screening in general practice using colorectal cancer screening as an example.

Continuing Professional Development

Self-directed CPD

It is recommended that 0.5 CPD hours be recorded per modules for the purposes of self-directed CPD.

Last modified: Thursday, 14 October 2021, 3:21 PM