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Faster results are a patient priority: radiologists

by Thomas Dworetzky , Contributing Reporter
In keeping with modern always-on society, radiologists are finding that the usual approach to interpreting results could need changing to keep up with expectations.

“Historically, medicine has been somewhat patriarchal. When patients interact with health care systems, medicine says we don’t tell test results until they’ve been curated by a doctor,” University of Michigan in Ann Arbor's Dr. Matthew Davenport and colleagues note online in a study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

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“A paradigm shift is happening, where online patient portals are becoming more common, and results are being released there,” he advised, according to Reuters Health. “Patients want to see their results in a timely fashion, and we may see that embargo period begin to disappear.”

The study asked 202 patients in Ann Arbor how much time they would spend before getting anxious and calling for results in six scanning situations: an X-ray for chest pain or for pneumonia, a back-pain MR scan, or results from CT or MR for brain tumor.

Patients were also asked their preferences about online portals to deliver the results.

The survey found that the desired time ranged from one to three days – and providers would get a call from them anytime from one to five days. About 50 percent anticipated getting answers in three days post a routine exam, in 48 hours for an X-ray for chest pain, and in a day for pneumonia, cancer therapy or brain tumor. For 50 percent of patients, five days was the maximum they would wait before calling over a screening, 48 hours for chest or back pain and 24 hours for results involving possible pneumonia or brain tumor.

The preferred method for getting results was by phone, following by in person. That said, of the 58 percent who had used the online portal, 94 percent got the results and liked the experience.

“In an ideal environment, of course, patients would want to know results instantaneously,” Davenport advised. “But even if radiologists complete them in 24 hours, there’s a delay in reporting them to the patients.”

Delays getting results take a toll on patients, the researchers reported, with half saying the suspense of waiting led to “emotional changes,” including anxiety.

“Personally, I’ve had family members who have been tested and then they never hear a result,” Davenport said. “They wonder about the results and if they’ve been forgotten, and one thing I’ve learned is that the anxiety around waiting is real and disruptive to people’s lives.”

That so many wanted to speak with their radiologists, however, was somewhat of a surprise. “In my time as a radiologist, I’ve been contacted a handful of times by patients,” he said. “The current paradigm is that we don’t often interact with patients, so it’s interesting to see that patients might like to talk with us more.”

In keeping with patients' interest in more interaction with radiologists, a June survey published in the journal Radiology found that the feeling was mutual.

Dr. Jennifer L. Kemp, lead author, and her colleagues from the RSNA Patient-Centered Radiology Steering Committee surveyed 694 RSNA members and found that 89 percent believe it's important to promote the awareness of radiology's role in patients' overall health care.

However, only 31 percent of radiology practices actually do that and 21 percent commonly deliver imaging results to patients in person. That's largely due to a number of barriers out of the radiologists' control.

Seventy-three percent reported that time and/or workload frequently prevented them from communicating directly with patients.

Kemp proposed that social media could be a solution because it's "where our patients are these days and where they get a lot of their medical information."

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