Only half of patients identify radiologists as physicians
Article Thumbnail ImageNovember 29, 2012 -- CHICAGO - Barely half of patients understand that radiologists are "real" doctors, a new poll of more than 300 individuals revealed. Researchers from Indiana presented the findings on Wednesday at the RSNA meeting.

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Although confusion reigns, approximately 80% of patients surveyed said they wanted to know who reads their scans, and 83% of patients wanted to see a copy of the radiologist's report, according to the group.

"People don't know what we are doing, and I think it is important that they do know," said Dr. Peter D. Miller, a radiology resident at Indiana University School of Medicine.

The findings he presented are virtually unchanged from a survey performed by the American College of Radiology (ACR) in 2008, he noted. That survey found that one in two patients did not know what a radiologist does and could not distinguish a radiologist from the technologist performing the exam.

"Radiologists primarily function as consultants to referring physicians and remain invisible to the patients they serve," Miller noted. "Aside from subspecialists such as radiation oncologists, breast imagers, and interventional radiologists, in general, radiologists have limited contact and do not communicate directly with their patients."

Of the 307 individuals surveyed in the study, approximately half had a high-school education and approximately half had at least a college education, Miller said. At least 95% had previously undergone a radiology study.

The study revealed the following:

  • 53.5% of the participants identified a radiologist as a physician, while 27.7% said a radiologist was not a physician; 18.8% didn't hazard a guess.
  • 52.8% of the participants agreed that it was "very important" to know who was reading their scans, 30.1% said it was important, 13.4% gave that factor "some importance," and 3.7% said it was not important.
  • 61.9% said they were "very interested" in receiving a copy of their radiology report, 21.4% were interested, and 5.8% were "somewhat interested." On the other hand, 4.3% had little interest and 2.7% were not interested.

"Radiologists are patients' physicians," Miller said. "We must further explore the barriers in our medical system that prevent radiologists from being visible to patients."

Among younger radiologists, there appears to be a push "to get out of the reading rooms and see patients," he said. The attitude of radiologists as to whether they want to meet with patients varies from practice to practice and from institution to institution.

"Patients don't seem to know a lot about who radiologists are and what we do," said Dr. Mary Mahoney, director of breast imaging at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "I think there needs to be a cultural change to get radiologists to meet with patients. Some radiologists choose the field because they do not want to interact directly with patients."

Mahoney, who does breast imaging, said referring physicians want her to interact directly with patients who are symptomatic for breast cancer. "For other situations, it is going to be a long process," she noted.