Patients using portals for imaging results are not interested in radiation risk

With patient-portal technology slowly but surely headed toward ubiquity—half of U.S. hospitals and 40 percent of physician practices now offer their patients such access—the time was right to ask what patients are doing, specifically with respect to radiology, on all those portals.

Five radiologists at the University of Michigan Health System have done so. The researchers’ key finding, posted online July 19 in the Journal of the American College of Radiology:

Patients who use web-based portals to access their imaging information care about their exam results quite a lot and about their exposure to radiation barely at all.

Benjamin Mervak, MD, and colleagues analyzed all patient-initiated messages submitted to the web-based, EMR-linked patient portal at U-M Medical Center in Ann Arbor over a 10-week period in late 2014.

During that time window, 1,489 patients sent 1,597 messages to inquire about 1,609 imaging exams out of nearly 100,000 total exams performed.

Pulling out messages in which patients used radiology-specific terms—largely imaging modalities by name, along with abbreviations—the authors analyzed patient demographics and tabulated exams by modality.

The team found:

  • The most common radiology-related patient inquiry was for exam results (33 percent, or 521 of the 1,597).
  • Only two inquiries (0.1 percent) mentioned radiation dose or risk.
  • Patient-initiated messages were significantly more likely to originate from women than from men (64 percent vs. 36 percent).

Also of interest, results were sent a median of five days after the exam, while the overall median radiology turnaround of five hours was much shorter than the time it took referrers to view the results and send them to the patient (70 hours and 101 hours, respectively).

“In other words, although patients waited a median of five days before writing to their provider for results, the radiology report was already in a finalized state for the vast majority of this time,” the authors write. “These data also show that the majority of patient inquiries occurred within the 14-day embargo period at our institution, during which radiology results are not available for patient viewing unless the referring provider or care team has manually released them.”

Mervak et al. state that their data “provide strong evidence that patients who take the opportunity to contact their doctors via the patient portal value diagnostic radiology examinations and test results, and desire a decreased delay before receiving test results.”

They add that their findings suggest that the nearly 1,500 highly engaged, portal-using patients in the cohort “believe the results of radiology examinations matter to their health. By analyzing these data, we can target opportunities for improvement in patient-centered care.”