Access to imaging exams via online portals saves money for patients, hospitals

Making imaging exams easily accessible through an online portal can improve patients’ quality of life, while also saving them, and hospitals, a good chunk of change.

That was the experience of one Italian institute that studied how often its patients accessed outpatient radiology exams over a two-year period, sharing their findings June 9 in the Journal of Digital Imaging. Among the more than 9,000 scans performed, individuals only accessed 190 (4.4%) exams in the first year.

That figure did jump in year two of the program, however. And if all patients would have logged in and downloaded their exams, both users and the hospital could have achieved a combined estimated overall savings of more than $290,000 (USD).

“The use of a web portal could represent a consistent economical advantage for the user, the hospital and the environment,” Massimo Cristofaro, with the National Institute for Infectious Diseases Radiology Unit in Rome, and colleagues wrote. “Even if increasing over time, the use of [a] web portal is still limited and strategies to increase the use of such systems should be implemented.”

Having basic computer skills remains a clear obstacle to accessing exams online; and throughout Europe, Italy ranks 24th out of 28 in computer literacy rate and digital skills. A mere 56% of European citizens between ages 16 and 74 have rudimentary computer knowledge, the authors noted, adding that this likely contributed to the low access rate.

For the Lazio ESCAPE project, the team analyzed anonymous patient data of users—median age of 58 years—who downloaded their radiology exams between March 2017 and February 2019. They recorded MRI, x-ray and CT scan views from 6,720 patients who mostly underwent a single imaging exam.

Overall, patients accessed 446 exams (4.9%), with MRI the type of image viewed most often (175 scans).

Money saved for patients was based on transportation costs and average time lost. For hospitals, that figure incorporated direct costs of staff preparing and delivering reports (paper, envelopes, CDs, etc.) and space required for storage.

There is still a long road ahead to bring widespread, web-based imaging access to patients in both Europe and the U.S., but the authors believe economic incentives can help boost adoption.

“In our opinion, a strategy to increase the spread of electronic distribution of reports and images could be to incentivize their use, also economically: both with ad hoc funds for public health companies only (divided between Information and Communications Technology and personal investments) and by reducing the cost of the service for users who use the portal,” they concluded.