Patients want radiologists to explain imaging findings quickly, but referring providers tend to disagree

Referring physicians and their patients don’t see eye to eye when it comes to communicating imaging findings, with an overwhelming majority of the latter preferring same-day delivery compared to doctors, who want more control over results.

Among more than 360 consumers who were asked about their radiology reporting preferences, up to 82% favored same-day communication from a radiologist. Many said that prolonged wait times led to feelings of anxiety, according to the study published Dec. 5 in Clinical Imaging

Of the physicians surveyed, on the other hand, most did not want radiologists to review a patient’s study with them on exam day. And 87.5% said they would rather a radiologist not send the report to patients even if it was first delivered to their office.

This disparity of thought, the authors noted, highlights one of the many areas of patient-centered outcomes that can be addressed if radiologists closely collaborate with their referring peers. It will take some work, however, they explained.

“A transformative cultural change in the traditional roles of radiologists and referring physicians in patient care management will require a paradigm shift towards a practice model that is in line with patients' preferences and needs,” wrote Janice N. Thai and colleagues with Northwell Health in New York.

To arrive at their conclusions, the authors anonymously surveyed 368 patients who received an outpatient radiology exam along with 168 referring doctors.

Overall, 81.5% of patients preferred to hear their results—normal or abnormal—from a radiologist within a day of their exam. In fact, 73% said 24 hours was the maximum acceptable wait time for normal findings, while 84.7% wanted their abnormal results within the same time period.

Thirty-six percent of referring physicians, meanwhile, approved of same-day radiologist-led patient communication, as long as a report was sent to their office. But 55% favored traditional communication, with no rad involved and the report delivered to their office.

Thai et al. discussed the implications of their findings in heavy detail and noted a more patient-centered care model within radiology is “strongly” aligned with the American College of Radiology’s Imaging 3.0 initiative to move the field from volume- to value-based care.

Directly speaking with patients, whether via a conference call or telehealth meeting, may involve the patient, referring physician and radiologist. And having imaging providers more involved would solidify their roles on the care team, rather than in the reading room as the “invisible” radiologist, the authors explained.

Doing so may not be as far-fetched as many think, they noted.

It is the norm for radiologists in interventional radiology, breast imaging, nuclear medicine, and fluoroscopy to meet with and communicate directly with their patients, very often reviewing imaging findings directly with them,” the authors explained. “Thus, in every radiology department and training program, there is a cadre of radiologists who are skilled in communication, and who can be mentors and champions for improved communication by all of their colleagues.”