June 16, 2016 -- Radiology reports aren't just for referring physicians anymore. In fact, more than 50% of patients who have online access to their reports read them -- and want to discuss the results with their radiologist, according to a new study published online in Academic Radiology.
So what do these findings suggest? Radiology reports are becoming a springboard to direct interaction with patients, and radiologists need to find ways to communicate clearly, said study senior author Dr. Christoph Lee of the University of Washington.
"When patients have open access to their reports -- sometimes even before their referring physicians -- they're going to have many more questions," he told AuntMinnie.com. "This shift will push us to make our reporting patient-centered, through language that laypeople can understand."
Patient access to medical data is another component in the shift toward value-based care that emphasizes patient participation, wrote lead author Dr. Randy Miles from the University of Illinois and colleagues (Acad Radiol, June 7, 2016).
"Recent trends leaning toward increased transparency and improved communication between doctors and patients have led to the rapid proliferation of web portals, changing the dynamics of shared health information and decision-making," they wrote. "These changes have been highlighted by federal policies enacted to promote meaningful use of health information technology with the aims of improving productivity and efficiency of healthcare delivery."
To investigate just how much patients are making use of their online radiology reports, the researchers assessed more than 129,000 patients who had portal access in 2014. They tracked whether the patients were viewing their radiology reports, laboratory reports, or clinical notes, and collected sociodemographic data such as gender, age, primary spoken language, race/ethnicity, and insurance status.
Of the total study cohort, 61,131 patients had at least one radiology report available, and 31,308 (51.2%) viewed them. Those who also viewed their lab results and clinical notes were more likely to view their radiology reports.
As for demographic characteristics, the researchers noted the following:
Certain patient demographic factors such as belonging to an ethnic or minority group, receiving Medicaid, and speaking English as a second language may increase the risk of healthcare disparities -- including healthcare "literacy," according to Miles and colleagues. It's a problem that must be addressed.
"In our study, these 'vulnerable' populations accessed their medical records at lower rates," they wrote. "Our findings corroborate previous reports that traditional web portal users have been largely represented by young, educated non-Hispanic white patients."
More time with patients?
Radiologists need to be aware that patients frequently read their own reports when they are available online, which may serve as a catalyst for more direct interaction, including face-to-face consultation, Lee said. In fact, some academic centers and private practices are already offering consults for confusing or equivocal cases, allowing patients to sit down with the radiologist and review the images together.
Are radiologists ready for more face-to-face time with patients? Ready or not, it's happening, according to Lee.
"Increased interaction with patients gives radiologists the opportunity to highlight our value in the patient care continuum," he told AuntMinnie.com. "And after all, we've all gone through medical school and residency. We're physicians first, and radiologists second."