Awaiting imaging results, patients remain patient for up to 3 days

After getting imaged, outpatients expect to hear back on the results within one to three days. If the wait goes longer than that, they’re likely to feel worried—or perhaps perturbed—and call in for themselves within five days, according to researchers at the University of Michigan.

Sean Woolen, MD, and colleagues suggest radiologists and referring physicians use their findings as benchmarks for optimizing provider-to-patient communication.

The Journal of the American College of Radiology published the team’s study report online Nov. 10.

Woolen and colleagues tapped a trained interviewer to administer a prospective multicenter outpatient quality improvement survey to 218 patients.

The researchers minimized risk of bias by having the survey vetted by patient-care advocates experienced in survey design and sending it for precognitive readability testing.

They succeeded in eliciting very high response and completion rates—93 percent (202 of 218) and 93 percent (188 of 202), respectively.

The respondents’ median stated expectations for receiving imaging test results were three days for a screening exam, two days for chest x-ray for chest pain, two days for MRI or CT for back pain, and one day for chest x-ray for pneumonia, MRI or CT for brain tumor and CT for cancer monitoring.

The patients indicated they would call in for themselves after waiting a median of one to five days, and the range was affected by what clinical question the imaging was intended to answer.

Further, nearly half the patients (91 of 202) said waiting for their results negatively impacted their emotional state. Of these, 85 percent named anxiety as their main reaction. Most experienced these feelings as mild or minimal (45 percent and 28 percent, respectively), although some 22 percent said their anxiety was moderate, and 5 percent indicated either severe or extreme.

“Given that not all patients have the same preferences, personalizing methods and speed of communication may be helpful,” the authors comment, citing as an example patient-specified variable embargo periods on an online patient portal.