Radiographers, patients know they must discuss imaging risks—but what's the best method?

Researchers from the University of Newcastle in Australia found that radiographers and patients generally agree on in-person risk communication about medical imaging examinations with ionizing radiation, according to research published in the August issue of Radiography

Previous studies have shown that most referring physicians don’t disclose risk information when recommending a medical imaging examination that uses ionizing radiation and, at the same time, are unaware that risk even exists, according to lead author Cameron Younger, PhD, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle, and colleagues.

"Essentially, Australian law only formally recognizes the physician's duty to disclose risk but recognizes that other health care providers may have an established tradition of doing so in some circumstances, but this practice is not legislated," the researchers wrote. "Lack of awareness of the risks associated with higher-dose examinations such as CT scanning is particularly concerning, as CT has sustained rapid growth for over two decades, often at a much higher rate than population growth, with 'no sign of reaching a plateau." 

In response, the researchers recruited 121 radiographers and 172 members of the public, asking them what their preferences were when receiving ionizing radiation risk information.

The questions included:

  • Which healthcare professionals are suited to provide such information?
  • What kind of media should the information be delivered through?
  • How should the information be delivered to the patient?  

Additionally, radiographer participants were asked hypothetically to give the threshold of ionizing radiation risk to a patient receiving an examination. 

Overall, the views of the radiographers and members of the public about informed consent of ionizing radiation risk were generally the same, according to the researchers. 

Human interaction was the preferred method for providing risk information to any patient—and the information is best presented to patients in the form of “odds.” However, members of the public indicated a higher trust in their referring physicians to provide informed consent, according to the authors. 

"It is very worthwhile to consider a shared model of informed consent, wherein the referring physician discusses the benefits of an examination and provides basic risk information (and access to further risk and benefit information material) for the patient to consider (the proactive duty of care)," the authors wrote. "Then the patient can decide whether to have the proposed examination and finalize the informed consent process once patient-specific risks have been disclosed by the health career preparing to administer the ionizing radiation."