Radiologists want patients to get test results faster

(Reuters Health) - Patients these days expect to get imaging test results more promptly than they did in the past – and radiologists are moving toward making that happen, researchers say.

In most medical practices, radiology teams interpret medical images but aren’t the ones who tell patients about the results. Some radiology groups across the nation are looking for ways to shorten the turnaround time for patients to hear their results, the researchers write in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“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,” said Dr. Matthew Davenport of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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

Davenport’s team surveyed 202 patients at two practices in Ann Arbor, describing six scenarios: a chest X-ray for chest pain, a chest X-ray for pneumonia, an MRI for back pain, a CT or MRI for a brain tumor, and a CT or MRI for cancer treatment. For each scenario, they asked patients how long they’d wait before calling their provider, whether they’d feel anxious while waiting for results, and their preferences for using an online patient portal to get the results.

In general, patients wanted test results in one to three days and would call their providers in one to five days if they hadn’t heard anything. Half of the patients said they expected results within three days after a routine screening, two days after a chest X-ray for chest pain, and one day after tests for pneumonia, a brain tumor or cancer treatment.

Half the patients would wait no more than five days to contact their doctor after a screening exam, two days after tests for chest pain or back pain and one day for tests for pneumonia or a brain tumor.

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

Half of the patients said they had experienced emotional changes, including minimal, mild, moderate, severe or extreme anxiety, while waiting for radiology results.

Generally, patients wanted to hear results from their doctors over the phone rather than in person. But both of those options were preferable to receiving results online. Of the 58 percent who had actually used an online patient portal, however, 94 percent said they had received tests results online and the vast majority liked it.

“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.”

The researchers were surprised that patients would prefer to contact their doctor or radiologist when they have questions about test results. “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.”

The American College of Radiology has started a national initiative called Imaging 3.0 that encourages radiologists to take a larger role in high-quality patient care and direct interactions with patients. At NYU Langone Health in New York City, for example, radiologists have shifted the way results are communicated to patients by embedding more images in their test result reports and including the radiologist’s annotations and notes.

“With imaging test results, a picture really can be worth more than 1,000 words,” said Dr. Andrew Rosencrantz of NYU Langone Health, who wasn’t involved with this study.

“For patients, radiology is changing for the better,” Rosencrantz told Reuters Health by phone. “We’re more patient-focused and want to get test results to patients quickly and in a way that’s understandable.”

SOURCE: Journal of the American College of Radiology, online November 10, 2017.