Study: Imaging portals should explain what's on the screen

A team of researchers from department of radiological sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles have developed an imaging patient portal that instead of focusing on sharing text reports, medications and laboratory results, instead is designed to display and explain radiology images and reports.

In an article in the November issue of the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, Corey W. Arnold, M.D., and colleagues explain that while the benefits of providing radiologic imaging information to patients is demonstrable, "little work has been done to make the full range of radiology content-imaging and text--available to patients in an understandable format," despite the fact that this information represents a significant amount of the evidence used in diagnosis and treatment.

Research has shown that patients definitely want access to this kind of information. A study published last year in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, and reported on by Diagnostic Imaging, showed that while patients might not completely understand medical terminology, they want to be able to read detailed radiology reports as quickly as possible.

The researchers implemented an electronic portal for brain tumor patients, which, the authors explained, is a population that has a high degree of information needs, as well as large amounts of initial and follow-up imaging.

Their system includes explanatory layers of information between the patient and clinical data, with each layer including an explanation and overview of the layer immediately below, "forming a hierarchy of progressively more specific information views that ultimately link to individual source reports' findings and associated imaging studies." The information is provided using concepts, illustrations, and key radiology images designed for a consumer audience.

The system was demonstrated at the RSNA 2011 annual meeting at which time, the authors wrote, observers "recognized the portal's ability to educate a patient on their disease state through their record, provide a means by which a patient may review diagnosis and treatment history, and allow a patient to share their record with family members and other supporting individuals."

However, there were concerns that the information provided through the portal would be beyond the comprehension of the average lay person, lead to misunderstandings and misconceptions, and result in more work for physicians who would have to spend time dealing with these issues.

"While steps can be taken to prevent issues regarding patients misunderstanding and clinician work- load increases, the potential for these issues cannot be completely eliminated," the authors wrote. "There are, and will always be, risks in allowing patients direct access with their records, but evidence indicates that these potential risks are outweighed by the benefits provided by such a system to an engaged patient."

To learn more:
- see the article in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association
read about the JACR study in Diagnostic Imaging

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