RSNA: The secret to patient-centric radiology? Treat patients as VIPs

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Source: Professional Radiology, Inc.

CHICAGO--Treating patients as VIPs, personal greetings from radiologists and a spa-like atmosphere are the hallmarks of patient-centered radiology facilities, according to a presentation on Nov. 29 at the 97th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiology Society of North America (RSNA). Using his own facility as an example, Volney Van Dalsem, MD, medical director of outpatient imaging at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., provided some concrete suggestions for making an imaging facility more patient-centered.

Van Dalsem began by recognizing the efforts of the late Gary M. Glazer, MD, a friend and colleague at Stanford who was one of the biggest advocates for patient-centered radiology. Glazer’s goal was that Stanford would serve as a new model for a positive patient experience.

The base of the patient-centered experience is the physical facility itself. Van Dalsem said the environment should feel serene and caring, almost spa-like, while also providing education to prepare patients for their exams. Stanford’s facility has an education center connected to the main waiting area with an informative video playing on a loop, along with educational brochures explaining the different modalities.

“We have sick patients. [These are] people who need to be welcomed, comforted and embraced,” said Van Dalsem. “I think that’s really critical.”

The next step is to look at individual processes from the perspective of the patient. Scheduling, for instance, can be improved by having a well-staffed call center. Van Dalsem said they measure metrics such as time on hold and dropped calls in order to identify problem areas in the scheduling process.

Careful consideration must be made when hiring staff, with everyone from the nurses to the front desk attendants knowing their expectations for providing a patient-centered experience. Every patient should be treated like a VIP, said Van Dalsem.

Van Dalsem said another issue for many radiology departments is that the actual radiologist rarely interacts with the patients, so Stanford tried to have radiologists meet with every patient to introduce themselves and thank the patient for choosing their facility. Radiologists would also inform the patient that their report would be ready in 24 hours, which is important for the patient to know if the referring physician does not promptly relay the interpretation.

“The patient deserves to know and not wait for two weeks,” said Van Dalsem.

The report should be made available to the patient as quickly as possible, and Van Dalsem said Stanford performed a survey showing that many patients don’t particularly care who delivers the interpretation. Only 41 percent preferred to get the results from their referring physician, with promptness being the more important concern.

Stanford’s efforts to build a patient-centered experience have been met with extremely positive reactions from patients and referring physicians, said Van Dalsem, but the facility has become somewhat of a victim of its own success. There has been an increase in volume and the interpretive workload has diminished time with patients. The facility is now experimenting with process adjustments such as replacing an in-person introduction from the radiologist with a video introduction from the department chair.

Stanford will also be conducting a three-year study into further optimizing its patient-centered radiology approach.