By Erik L. Ridley, AuntMinnie staff writer

December 1, 2015 -- CHICAGO - Patients want to access their imaging results quickly via patient portals, and they are also interested in receiving the findings directly from radiologists, according to a presentation on Tuesday at the 2015 RSNA meeting.

Based on survey results, researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) concluded that patients preferred using a patient portal and were satisfied with it. While they were primarily focused on getting their imaging results quickly, the participants often expressed interest in getting their results directly from radiologists. However, that interest was primarily due to radiologists being the first to know the findings, rather than their expertise, according to presenter Dr. Eduardo Hernandez-Rangel.

"We need to inform our patients better about patient portals ... and also we need to encourage the patients to know their radiologists better," he said. Hernandez-Rangel is a research fellow in the university's radiology department.

Patient portal use

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act aimed to improve healthcare delivery and provide patients with online access to their health information. Patient portals are secure online websites that give patients access to personal health information and enable them to share the information with providers, Hernandez-Rangel said.

The UC Irvine team set out to evaluate access to imaging reports in patient portals and to ascertain how these results are received and communicated. They also sought to assess the roles of the patients and radiologists in how imaging records are accessed via the patient portal.

In their survey of 320 adult patients, the researchers asked the participants if they used the patient portal and if they were satisfied with it. Other questions covered how the patients received information about their imaging procedures, access to imaging reports, and preferences for receiving explanations about their imaging procedures and the results. They also queried the patients on the role of radiologists in their healthcare and their perceptions of the radiologist's involvement.

The 66 survey respondents had a mean age of 56 years, and 79% had a college-level education. Of the 53% who had access to the patient portal, 85% were satisfied with it. Forty-seven percent of those who didn't have a patient portal yet would like to have one, according to the team.

Of the respondents, 89% had received a recent imaging test, while 56% had multiple imaging studies. However, only 15% indicated they looked at their imaging results on the patient portal.

With regard to their preferences for receiving imaging results, 48% wanted to discuss results with their referring physician and 26% wanted to receive the findings from their primary care physician. Radiologists were preferred by 21%, followed by "other" at 5%.

Patients were primarily concerned with receiving timely access to their reports, Hernandez-Rangel said.

However, 57% said they would be interested in having radiologists be more involved in providing imaging results on the patient portal.

"When they answer why, it's because the [radiologist] is the first person to know the findings and not because they know the interpretive expertise of the radiologist," he said.

Yes, it can be difficult for radiologists to find time in their busy schedules to get in touch with patients, Hernandez-Rangel added.

"But think about your patients, and think about them whenever they are in the waiting period to get their results," he said. "Patients struggle and feel a lot of stress and [anxiety] just waiting for the answer."

Easing concerns

Radiologists can help to ease these patient concerns, he said. As the experts on imaging, radiologists can also help explain the diagnostic process, the purpose of the exam, any concerns about radiation exposure, and, when necessary, any urgent or unexpected findings.

"What we want is patient-centered care," Hernandez-Rangel said.

This radiologist role fits into the transition from volume- to value-based care, as well as campaigns such as RSNA's Radiology Cares and the American College of Radiology's Imaging 3.0. It's important to encourage patients to think about radiologists as imaging experts -- but also as knowledgeable physicians who know more about medicine than just imaging, he said.

"We can also advocate for patients, be gatekeepers, and sometimes a referring physician," he said.

The researchers acknowledged limitations of their study, including the small sample size of patients, age, and access and knowledge of the patient portal.


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