Translating ‘Radiology-speak’

My 85-year-old mother volunteers as an intake person at a free clinic, but her high school Spanish is long gone. This week, she found herself on duty without an interpreter and was amazed when a much younger volunteer pulled her smart phone from her pocket, spoke a question into it, and out came the question in Spanish. The app performed the inverse function for the Spanish-speaking gentleman, and voilà, the registration ensued.

Reading the interview in this issue of Health Imaging Partner Voice with Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Gorkem Sevinc, I was stirred by his optimism about the evolutionary course of imaging informatics and his eagerness to use the tools of his generation to engage patients in their healthcare. Sevinc is managing director of the Technology Innovation Center at JHM.

Communications with patients is not an insignificant hurdle for radiology to clear, but all road signs are pointing radiology in that direction, from the Affordable Care Act to the Merit-based Incentive Payment System.

When I first began to cover the specialty in 1998, it was widely acknowledged that direct patient marketing was both ineffective and a waste of effort. Years of deference to the referring physician put patient communications on the back burner—until now.

More than a few radiologists continue to believe that the status quo is just fine, that patients are well served in receiving their results from referring physicians. In some cases, I am sure that is the case; in others, I am sure that patients are getting the short shrift. That painstaking report you are generating, complete with incidental findings, is being distilled into a one-line letter to the patient:  The results of your recent test were negative, positive, or inconclusive.

On the other hand, those who question the wisdom of delivering a radiology report into the hands of patients without some form of translation have a point. A normal report rife with words like tortuous likely will generate more anxiety—and phone calls—than warranted.

I am convinced that it will be informaticists and radiologists of Gorkem’s generation, unencumbered by historical hierarchies, who will build the solutions to this very real problem. Maybe one of those solutions will be a smartphone app to translate “radiology-speak” into plain English.