By Edward Susman
November 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.

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.

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Copyright © 2012

Last Updated np 12/5/2012 11:45:35 AM

42 comments so far ...
11/30/2012 2:53:51 AM
Uncle Vernon
It is very sad to read that radiologists usually have no direct contact to patients. During my years in diagnostic radiology (I am now working as radiation oncologist) I usually talked to the patients before the scans were done.
Quite often, you get useful information about symptoms or history that can help you to choose the likely differential diagnosis. Or you  do the scan in another way than you would have done if you only had the information from the referral forms. Sometimes you hear that there are some previous tests you didn't know of before and can request for comparison.  And sometimes you can come to the conclusion that the requested test is probably redundant and avoid the unneccessary X-Ray-exposure of your patient.
There are many ways in which a short talk to your patients can improve the quality of your work.  And,  as a side effect, they will see that you care and that will make them recognize you as a doctor.

11/30/2012 3:10:37 AM
Actually many Patients consider radiation oncologists as technicians too. Prestige is not much higher for rad onc among patients.

The medical oncologists are usually considered real doctors.

11/30/2012 5:05:45 AM
Where is the time do all this talking to patients and clinicians?  The list of unread studies is piling up, pager is going off incessantly, phone is ringing off the hook, secretaries/techs are banging on the door stating this is a wet read that is a wet read, clinicians are getting angry because their study hasn't been read in 5 minutes  . . .

11/30/2012 5:17:36 AM
Don't attack the OP and start this silly one specialty is better than the other discussion. I think radiologists should get into more scandals nationally while simultaneously flaunting their 1%-er features like big houses in "swanky neighborhoods" like the papers wrote in reference to the Petreaus scandal. That's all I got.

11/30/2012 10:07:47 AM
With a busy schedule filled with interpretation this is the role the RA and NMAA are trying to fill, but we need more physician and hospital support.  Being the equivalant (or above) of a PA or NP in the radiology and molecular imaging levels we have the expertise and technical background along with broad medical knowledge to take on that responsibility.  If you would like to now more about the NMAA visit the SNMMI website and go to the Advanced Associate Council page, for RA information the ASRT website has a wealth of info.