Radiologist-patient communication: Don't overlook the basics

Research recently presented at the American Board of Radiology Foundation's annual summit and written about in this week's FierceMedicalImaging should give medical professionals food for thought about what kind of information they should impart to their patients about the imaging scans they're about to undergo.

Over the last several years, concerns have been raised about medical imaging safety and radiation exposure. But--according to researchers Jay Pahade, of Yale University School of Medicine, and Andrew Trout, of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center--it appears that when it comes to their own imaging procedures, patients just want to know the basics, like the name of the imaging exam and whether or not it will improve their care.

It's an interesting finding, considering how much time and energy the imaging community has spent on implementing strategies that emphasize the importance of communicating information about equipment and facility safety, as well as the professional expertise of radiologists, to patients.

There's still no question this is important. For example, patients still have a general lack of understanding about medical radiation exposure associated with their tests and need to be educated; radiologists should play an important role in communicating that information to patients.

But, there also have been arguments about who is best positioned to provide imaging results to patients: radiologists, or the referring physicians who order the tests. Last fall, Pahade published research in the American Journal of Roentgenology that found that patients are very comfortable hearing results from radiologists, and that many, in fact, display decreased anxiety after a patient-radiologist encounter.

What's more, according to Pahade's recent research with Trout, when patients were asked who they wanted to deliver new of their imaging results, most responded "knowledgeable staff," followed by the ordering doctor and the radiologist.

In other words, patients just want to talk to a friendly medical professional who can diffuse fears and provide treatment with "compassion and dignity."

While radiologists, no doubt, are justified in their concerns about providing patients with as much information as possible with regard to radiation exposure and safety issues, perhaps there's also something to be said for keeping patient conversations simple. After all, losing sight of the basics can be just as stressful as focusing on the complex. - Mike  @FierceHealthIT