SIIM20: Radiology departments turn to tech to connect with patients

Radiology continues to chip away at the notion that its specialists do not interact with patients. And although there’s a lot of ground to make up, a number of hospital-based departments are seeing success through various technological approaches.

Imaging experts from two large health systems shared their experiences Thursday, during the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine’s virtual meeting. They detailed strategies ranging from blog posts and mobile apps to sophisticated dashboards and electronic health record-based widgets.

“As physicians, we want to communicate with our patients and like to think we do so in a way that is direct and clear. But in reality, the message may get garbled or they’re overwhelmed," said Tessa S. Cook, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Despite [our] best efforts, our patients may end up confused.”

And that was part of the problem with Penn’s imaging-based screening rates for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma. Primary care physicians were unable to remember if their patients were at risk during the short exam time they had, and it was difficult to locate in the electronic health record. As a result, many conversations regarding the benefits of receiving an abdominal ultrasound twice a year never happened, leaving both physicians and patients uninformed.

In order to make this an easier “lift,” Cook and colleagues created a query to identify at-risk individuals with upcoming appointments, attaching a pending order for screening that automatically popped up in the patient’s EHR.

The six-month endeavor incorporates more than two-dozen criteria and has been successful, ultimately boosting screening levels by 15 to 50 percentage points, Cook said during the presentation.

Penn Medicine has undertaken a few other initiatives, striving to improve communication between radiologists and emergency department physicians to better patients’ outpatient imaging and ED experiences.

Those include reducing congestion in radiology waiting rooms through patient-specific messages, and live dashboards in the ED and rad reading rooms detailing patient queues and turnaround times. Those pilots have been delayed due to the pandemic, she noted.

Simple yet effective

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center has also undertaken patient experience improvement projects, focusing more on direct communication.

“I think patient engagement requires listening to patients as well as a desire to make changes to suit their needs,” Alexander Towbin, MD, associate chief, clinical operations and informatics at Cincinnati Children’s, said Thursday. “There are many opportunities to increase engagement throughout the imaging process.”

Given that Towbin’s department deals primarily with children, imaging waiting rooms are typically filled with nervous parents. So they created a status board with a unique number for each patient, along with one of two colors and icons indicating what step they're in during the imaging process.

That real-time information was just embedded into the hospital-wide phone app, which updates parents with push notifications until they receive the green light to reconnect with their child.

It’s a simple interface, but it’s been a hit with parents, Towbin noted.

Cincinnati imaging’s online blog has also helped bridge the gap between radiologists and patients with stories about how MRI exams work, how some children use video goggles to remain calm during exams and articles personalizing individual team members.

The blog has garnered more than 250,000 page views and has received countless comments about how such stories turned a usually nerve-wracking appointment into a positive one.