By Kate Madden Yee, AuntMinnie.com staff writer

February 13, 2018 -- How much information do patients want before imaging exams? Certainly more than they're getting, according to a study published online February 13 in Radiology. In fact, more than half seek information about the procedure on their own beforehand, and one in five patients show up for the exam without having received any information about it.

The findings indicate an area of improvement for radiologists as healthcare becomes more patient-centered, wrote the team led by Dr. Jay Pahade of Yale School of Medicine. Radiology has mostly concentrated on how to communicate test results to patients. But clearly more needs to be done to educate them before the exam.

Dr. Jay Pahade
Dr. Jay Pahade from Yale School of Medicine.

"Patients want more basic information about how to prepare for the exam, even over information about radiation risk," Pahade told AuntMinnie.com. "Our study hammers home the point that as radiologists, we need to shift our educational focus, both for referring physicians and patients."

To address the issue of patient education, Pahade and colleagues developed a 24-question survey to investigate what information patients and parents or caregivers found useful and from whom they preferred to receive it. They also wanted to examine how patient preferences changed based on demographics, the type of scheduled radiologic examination, and the number of prior radiologic examinations that patients had undergone.

The researchers distributed 1,742 surveys to patients at three pediatric and three adult hospitals between January and May 2015; 1,542 surveys were completed, for an 89% return rate. More than half of the study participants were undergoing imaging themselves (58%), while 42% had a child or other dependent receiving imaging. Most respondents were scheduled for MRI (26%), ultrasound (24%), or CT (21%).

The group found the following:

  • 78% of survey participants received information about their exam beforehand.
  • Most often, patients received information from their ordering provider (64%), who was also their preferred source (72%).
  • 52% of survey participants sought information about their imaging exam themselves before undergoing it. Common sources were the ordering provider's office and general websites such as Google or WebMD. Web content provided by radiology centers made up 22% of the sources used, while information provided by radiology organizations made up only 5%.
  • Information on exam preparation was the most important to survey respondents; whether an alternative, radiation-free exam could be used instead was the least important.

"Overall, most respondents reported having received some information before their imaging examination, but over one-fifth reported receiving no information," the group wrote. "The discordance between the information patients feel is important (preparation) and the information that is emphasized by radiologic societies (radiation) suggests that a shift in emphasis is needed."

Ways to improve

Because patients seem to prefer receiving information about upcoming imaging exams from the ordering provider, radiology organizations may want to promote patient information sites directly to these physicians in addition to patients and caregivers, Pahade and colleagues noted.

"Given that referring providers are the most common and preferred source for information about imaging examinations, this is an important group for educational outreach by the radiology community," they wrote.

But radiologists aren't off the hook when it comes to educating patients. At Yale, patients receive appointment reminders that now include links to exam information on RadiologyInfo.org, an online resource jointly sponsored by the RSNA and the American College of Radiology (ACR). The site offers information about how various imaging exams are performed, outlines what patients may experience and how they can prepare for their exam, and features videos of radiologists explaining common imaging exams. It is also available in Spanish.

The researchers hope the study will help their radiology peers better understand patients' needs, Pahade told AuntMinnie.com.

"We need to be aware that many of our patients are coming in without having received any type of pretest information," he said. "They assume that the test is needed, that radiation will be monitored, and that the radiologists are certified. What they want to know is how to arrive prepared for their exam."


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