High- and low-tech communication improvements

Finding ways to bridge gaps in communication—both physician-to-physician and physician-to-patient—is a big focus in the search for value in radiology. Two of this week’s top read stories dealt with just this topic.

First, survey results published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology (JACR) revealed the opinions of a group of patients and referring physicians about communicating radiology results through a patient portal. Access to patient portals is becoming more commonplace, though within radiology there is a still a concern that patients may not adequately understand their reports, leading to confusion, anxiety and extra calls to the referring physician.

Researchers from Hawaii Permanente Medical Group in Honolulu asked 508 patients about their experiences with a recently implemented online portal where reports, but not images, could be released directly to patients. Results showed 74 percent found the portal an easy way to access their radiology results and 88 percent felt that this access was important to them.

And what about the referring physicians? Did they experience a glut of calls with questions about radiology reports? For most, it seems that the addition of a portal did not keep the phone ringing off the hook. While 25 percent of patients said they were able to contact their doctors to discuss information in the report, 86 percent of the referring physicians said the process did not affect their workload and that calls to the office were unchanged or actually decreased.

Another top-read story of the week also comes from JACR as a group from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora asked, “Which way to the reading room?” In a case study, the authors surveyed clinicians within the facility to see if they knew where the location of the thoracic radiology reading room and how to contact a thoracic radiologist.

Results showed that 64 percent of respondents couldn’t say where exactly the reading room was located, and 38 percent didn’t even know how to contact a thoracic radiologist if they had a question or concern.

The research team developed simple interventions to remedy the issue, including emailing clinicians with contact information and including a template at the bottom of radiology reports that contained reading room location and contact information. After the changes, a follow up survey showed only 10 percent were still uncertain how to contact a thoracic radiologist and less than half were unaware of the reading room location.

These two stories are a good reminder that technology can improve communication—in the case of patient portals—but in a digital world where radiologists are separated from the clinical environment, a low-tech intervention may be needed to reconnect with clinicians.

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging