People with patient portal experience less willing to wait for imaging results

In an increasingly technology-driven world, more hospitals are introducing patient portal systems. But when it comes to delivering imaging results to patients, instant access isn’t always best, wrote authors of a new study published in Radiology.

“Both releasing results too early and releasing results too late could contribute to a poor patient experience and have a deleterious effect on patient care,” wrote first author Sean A. Woolen, with Michigan Medicine’s Department of Radiology in Ann Arbor, and colleagues. “Therefore, finding an optimal balance between patient autonomy and physician involvement is desirable."

Trained interviewers administered a discrete choice conjoint survey to 464 volunteers immediately after they received an imaging exam from December 2016 to February 2018. A total of 420 and 418 patients responded and completed the survey, respectively. Nearly 70 percent of participants were 50 years or older.

Participants were asked three questions regarding their preferences for receiving imaging results of a possible or known cancer diagnosis: a one, three or 14-day delay in receiving results; gaining results via online portal, physician office visit or phone; and receiving access to results before, simultaneously or after the provider.

Overall, those surveyed wanted their results earlier, from their physicians and delivered over the phone, the authors reported. Additional results were as follows:

  • Patients had a similar preference for receiving their results at the same time and after their physician, but most did not want to receive them before the physician.
  • Telephone call was the preferred method to receive results, followed by physician office visit and patient portal.
  • Patients wanted imaging results immediately available through an online portal if forced to wait more than six days to receive results in an office visit, and more than 11 days to get results over the phone.
  • Instead of waiting seven days to receive their results during an in-person visit, patients preferred immediate online portal results if a physician then called within six days to discuss, or if they could arrange an office visit within two days of receiving their results.
  • Those who had prior experience using an online portal were less willing to wait for results compared to those who had not.

“Our results can be used to inform local policy and indicate that the embargo period can and possibly should vary by site, depending on the availability of referring physicians and their extender staff to contact patients with results,” the authors concluded.

In a related editorial, Ronald L. Arenson, of the University of California, San Francisco, pointed out the results of the study could be skewed due to the fact that most participants were 50 years or older. If more younger patients were included, he added, the results could change “fairly dramatically.”

“We know that younger patients are more comfortable using online portals compared with older patients and both physicians and their patients would prefer having patients receive the results directly and immediately,” Arenson wrote. “With so much information immediately available via the Internet, patients’ expectations for immediate laboratory and imaging results are also increasing.”