Patients want results from referring docs, access to images and reports

A majority of radiology patients prefer to hear their results from the ordering provider rather than a radiologist, but most also want the option to review the images and reports from their imaging tests themselves, according to study results published online April 16 by the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

While many aspects of modern medical care hinge on the accuracy of interpretation of imaging results, radiologists continue to serve in a mostly behind-the-scenes role when it comes to patient interaction. A recent emphasis on value-based healthcare practices have some calling for radiologists and imaging professionals to emerge from the shadows and engage with patients in a more direct manner, according to Miguel Cabarrus, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues. “Improved visibility helps radiologists demonstrate the value they already currently provide,” wrote Cabarrus et al. “Additional ‘value’ through direct communication could result from a reduced number of intermediary communication errors, decreased delays in patient management, reduced patient stress and anxiety, and improved patient adherence to follow-up recommendations.”

Cabarrus and his team of researchers set out to gauge patients’ interest in communicating directly with a radiologist about test results, and to assess overall patient preferences regarding imaging. To do so, they surveyed 2,438 patients undergoing CT and MRI scans at an academic medical center and an affiliated county hospital over a four-week period. Preferences for how patients receive and access imaging results, as well as understanding of radiologists’ education and involvement in patient care, were the primary topics explored in the survey.

The results revealed that a majority of radiology patients (63 percent) prefer to learn about imaging test results from their doctors rather than a radiologist. Not surprisingly, most patients—85 percent— also expressed interest in having access to the actual images resulting from imaging scans, while 64 percent of those surveyed responded affirmatively when asked about receiving a copy of the imaging report. Patients at the academic facility had no preference as to the manner in which they received the report, while those at the county hospital favored standard mail service as a means of imaging report delivery.

“When given a binary choice to receive their results from treating physicians with whom they are familiar or experts in image interpretation with whom they are not familiar, [patients] again selected the ordering provider,” wrote Cabarrus et al. “These findings do not support our initial hypothesis, which was that patients would prefer receiving their imaging results from imaging experts.”

One reason for this, the researchers suggest, is that patients showed a general lack of understanding about the education and role of radiologists in medical care. “It is possible that this misunderstanding is a contributor to patients’ disinterest in hearing results from radiologists,” the researchers wrote, “as suggested by our subanalysis showing slightly more interest in radiologist-centric communication models among patients most familiar with radiologists’ role.

The results did show a potential avenue for adding value for patients through presentation and explanation of the actual images from a radiology specialist when learning of test results. “An overwhelming majority of our patients expressed a strong interest in viewing their images as part of any discussion of radiologic results, regardless of who was doing the discussing,” wrote Cabarrus et al. “Discussion with a radiologist may be more desired if a quick and accurate review of the images is part of the process and is superior to the experience patients receive when reviewing their images with ordering providers.”