Radiology residents lack training in how to communicate results to patients

Radiology’s shift to value-based care has providers considering even the smallest details related to the patient experience. A recent study published by Current Problems in Diagnostic Radiology, however, shows that radiology residents are not being trained on the proper way to communicate exam results to patients.

Lead author Anand Narayan, MD, PhD, of the department of radiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and colleagues analyzed survey responses submitted by more than 70 residents from two urban residency programs. They found that 91 percent of respondents had been asked to communicate results to patients, but more than 83 percent had never actually been trained on the proper way to do so.

Radiologists, the authors explained, often need assistance with the development of these skills, largely because they don’t have as many chances to practice.

“Practitioners in most nonradiology specialties have the everyday experience of communicating results with patients, providing them with ample opportunities to refine communication approaches through trial and error,” Narayan et al. wrote. “For radiologists though, these opportunities are less frequent, leaving us comparatively disadvantaged in our development of these skills. Radiologists’ more limited opportunities for patient interaction and the benefits of effective patient communication suggest that formal communications training may be particularly beneficial for radiologists.”

The residents were asked to rank their comfort level communicating results to patients on a scale from one to 10. No one selected a one or two as their answer, more than 8 percent selected 10 as their answer, and the median answer was a seven. More than 79 percent of respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that additional training would be helpful for their careers. Narayan and colleagues compared this statistic to a 2009 study from Academic Radiology, which found that 68 percent of respondents “had no interest in obtaining additional training.”

The study did not include specific recommendations on what residents should be told in such training or how that training should be carried out. “Additional research is required to determine the ideal formats, methods, and types of instruction to educate residents on optimal techniques to communicate test results,” the authors wrote. They did, however, point to a 2007 article on the topic from the Journal of the American College of Radiology as an example of what the training might include.