Radiologist communication with patients is the right thing to do

Should radiologists disclose their finding directly to patients? With the increasing emphasis on patient-centric care within the specialty, it's a question that continues to be raised.

An article in this month's American Journal of Roentgenology argues that radiologists are justified in communicating radiologic findings to patients, particularly in cases in which they possess a high degree of confidence in the results.

"If we know the finding, whether it's good or bad, it's our duty to tell the patient if the patient wants to know," lead author Ian Amber, M.D., of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, told AuntMinnie.com. "It's wrong to hide behind a traditional, old-school view of radiology that says radiologists need to stay in the background."

It's not the first study suggesting that there are compelling reasons for direct radiologist-patient communication.

For example, in an AJR study published last fall, Jay Pahade, M.D., of Beth Israeal Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and his colleagues found that patients are very comfortable hearing results from radiologists and that many, in fact, display decreased anxiety after that patient-radiologist encounter.

But, how feasible is it for radiologists to take on that role? One hurdle that remains is the attitude referring physicians have about the idea of radiologists communicating results directly to a patient.

That hurdle might be rather tall, according to the results of a recent study in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. In that study, 95 percent of the physicians surveyed said that the most appropriate way for patients to learn the results of an imaging exam is from an ordering physician.

There are logistical issues at play here, as well, particularly those related to workflow. In Pahade's study, he and his colleagues reported that the average consultation times for CT and ultrasound exams were roughly 10 minutes and 7 minutes respectively. For busy radiologists, that really cuts into time they could be spending reading studies.

Then, there's the ongoing question of how prepared radiologists are to communicate directly with patients, particularly when it comes to delivering bad news. But why should radiologists be less capable than any other physician of handling this kind of interaction with patients?

Yet, while there may be reasons why radiologists may not want to communicate with patients, many specialists--such as interventional radiologists, pediatric radiologists and, in particular, women's imagers--have successfully made communicating with patients part of their responsibilities. No one would argue that this is poor healthcare practice.

If direct radiologist-patient interaction can provide patients with fast, accurate interpretations of their imaging exams, give them an avenue for asking questions, and can be done in a way that is in accordance with the wishes of referring physicians, isn't it the right thing to do? - Mike  @FierceHealthIT

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