Sorry, rads: Patients want results from referring docs

2015 06 11 11 22 48 775 Confused Patient 200

Radiology leaders have been urging their colleagues to come out of the reading room and deal more directly with patients. But it turns out that when it comes to getting the results of their imaging exams, patients want to hear from the doctor who ordered the study, according to research in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

"The traditional model is that the referring physician orders the study and delivers the results to the patient, even though the radiologist is the imaging expert," contributing author Dr. David Naeger, of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), told "Our hypothesis was that if patients were given the option, they would want to receive imaging exam results from the expert, the radiologist. But that was not the case."

Yet Naeger and colleagues did find that patients want to see their images and read their exam reports -- which could offer an entrée for radiologists.

"Patients desire access to their reports ... and expressed a strong preference to review their images when receiving their imaging results," the authors wrote. "Given that radiologists are in the best position to accurately review medical images, this could present an opening for [them] to take the lead in relaying results sometime in the future."

Dr. David Naeger from UCSF.Dr. David Naeger from UCSF.

Predictable preferences?

Naeger's group surveyed adult outpatients undergoing CT or MRI at an academic medical center and a county hospital over a four-week period. They asked respondents to share their preferred method of receiving imaging results, as well as their understanding of radiologists' education and role (JACR, June 2015, Vol. 12:6, pp. 556-562).

Of more than 2,000 surveys, 617 were completed; 475 were from participants at the academic center and 142 were from individuals at the county hospital.

In all, 387 patients (63%) wanted to hear imaging results from their referring physician rather than the radiologist. But regardless of whether the results were delivered by their primary doctor or by the radiologist, 64% wanted the option to receive a copy of the exam report and 85% wanted to see their images.

"Regardless of who communicated their results, a majority of patients did indicate that they would like copies of their reports," the authors wrote. "An overwhelming majority of our patients expressed a strong interest in viewing their images as part of any discussion of radiologic results, regardless of who was doing the discussing."

Do you know who I am?

Of the total survey respondents, 543 (88%) said they know who radiologists are and what they do, although only 56% identified radiologists as medical doctors. On average, the respondents estimated that radiologists complete nearly seven years of training after high school -- when it is actually at least 13 years, not including fellowship training, Naeger and colleagues wrote. Seventy-nine percent of patients correctly stated that radiologists interpret imaging studies.

Although the researchers found that patients preferred to hear imaging results from ordering physicians, other studies have shown that patients value timely communication over who delivers the results (American Journal of Roentgenology, March 2011, Vol. 196:3, pp. 605-610).

What's the take-home message? There's more work to be done to make radiologists a recognized part of the care continuum, Naeger said.

"Our expertise should be promoted and made available to patients," he said. "Some ideas for doing this might include directing patients to online patient portals, or even setting up a dedicated phone line they could call to speak with a radiologist about their exam."

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