Online portals: Important to radiology patients, useful to doctors

Digital access to radiology reports through an online patient portal integrated with an EHR is a high priority for most patients and a useful tool for physicians, according to results of a survey published in the June issue of the Journal of the American College of Radiology. 

While an emphasis on providing patients with as much information as possible regarding their medical care remains a priority in current efforts of healthcare modernization, giving patients greater access to radiology reports represents a more complicated challenge, according to Don Henshaw, MD, and his colleagues from the Hawaii Permanente Medical Group in Honolulu. “Patients’ experience waiting for a referring physician to communicate radiology results is a stressful and frustrating experience,” wrote Henshaw and colleagues. “Although they believe that patients should have access to personal health information, e.g., through an online patient portal integrated with an EHR, referring physicians and radiologists may be concerned that patients will not adequately understand radiology reports, resulting in greater anxiety for patients and increased demands on provider time.”

Henshaw and his team sent out a survey to patients and referring physicians concerning their healthcare facility’s recent implementation of an online patient portal in which doctors could manually release radiology reports to patients (no images were included in the reports). The survey assessed patients’ opinions on accessibility, importance of portal-released radiology reports, and communications with referring physicians prior to and following the release of the reports. Additionally, the researchers surveyed referring physicians and conducted a group interview to assess the usefulness of releasing radiology reports through the patient portal, the doctors’ preferences regarding automatic release, and the effect of releasing the reports on their respective workloads.

Their results showed that of the 508 patients who responded to the survey, 74 percent (377) of patients reported easy access to their radiology results, and 88 percent (446) respnded that they found that access to be important. Nearly half (250) of patients were contacted by their doctors before the report was released to them, and 25 percent (156) were able to contact their referring physician to discuss information contained within the report. Of 48 referring physicians who participated in the survey, 88 percent (42) found that releasing reports to patients was useful, while 86 percent (41) said that the process did not affect their workload, reporting that follow-up emails, telephone calls and office visits had actually decreased or were unchanged.

“The practice of manual release of radiology reports was well received by the majority of patients, and most referring physicians found it useful,” the authors concluded. “A delay between reporting results to physicians and releasing them to patients would allow needed communication before patients access their radiology reports.”