Patients prefer to have instant--or near-instant--access to their radiology test reports, even when the findings may be difficult to understand, according to a new study conducted by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, published this week in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.
The study is relatively small, covering only 53 respondents, but the findings were consistent and powerful: 80 percent said they would prefer to receive the test results via an online portal, even moreso than a phone call from a nurse or doctor, or even an in-person consultation.
About half (53 percent) wanted immediate access and another 23 percent said they wanted access within three days, according to the study.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is on patients' side in this one. Under a rule proposed last fall, patients across the country would be able to obtain their test results directly from laboratories. The enhanced access to test results is designed to bypass laws in several states that require patients to get the data from their physicians.
In the Wake Forest study, researchers asked respondents about three radiologic scenarios. The first was a patient with headaches whose head CT was normal except for minor sinusitis. The second was a patient with double vision. His MRI revealed multiple brain lesions from an unknown cause. The third was a patient with back pain and right leg weakness whose MRI showed possible cancer compressing spinal nerves, according to Wake Forest.
But not all physicians are eager to give up their role in conveying test results to patients. Physicians worry that patients won't understand or will misinterpret the complicated reports.
However, study participants indicated they realized they might not understand everything, and planned to seek additional information from the Internet, knowledgeable friends, medical dictionaries, and even physicians.
The authors also noted that patients were more than willing to use reliable websites or online resources suggested by their physicians. A full 90 percent of participants actually accessed the online tools recommended by their doctors, according to coverage of the study at CMIO.
Wake Forest ostensibly conducted the research because its working on just such a patient portal, promising three-day access to results, that it plans to launch this fall.