Patients lack information about imaging exams, study finds

Doctor looking at X-ray
Radiologists and doctors who order imaging studies need to do a better job educating patients about the tests and procedures they will undergo, a new study finds. (Getty/bernardbodo)

Doctors can do a better job providing patients with information before they go for an imaging exam, a new study found.

One in five patients shows up for an imaging exam without any information about the test they are about to undergo, according to the study published in Radiology.

Twenty-two percent of patients said they received no explanatory information about imaging exams ordered by their doctors, the survey at hospitals across the country found. Researchers found half of all patients and their caregivers ended up seeking information about the test on their own, including for various X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, radiation therapy and other procedures.

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As the healthcare industry focuses on providing patient-centered care and values patient engagement and involvement, radiologists have focused on better communicating the results of imaging tests to patients, but have so far not paid much attention to engaging patients prior to and during the time they undergo a test, the study’s lead author Jay K. Pahade, M.D., an associate professor of radiology at the Yale School of Medicine, said in an announcement from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Jay K. Pahade
Jay K. Pahade, M.D.,
(Radiological Society of North America)

Pahade and his colleagues surveyed patients and caregivers at three pediatric and three adult hospitals in the U.S. about what information they would like to receive before a test and what would be most useful to them.

The study found 78% of 1,438 respondents said they received information prior to their test. Patients said they most often received information from the physicians who ordered the exam, which was the preferred source of information. Many also turned to general websites such as WebMD for information.

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Patients most valued information about how to prepare for the exam. Most placed low importance on whether an alternative radiation-free exam was an option. In pediatric hospitals, parents placed an even higher value on pre-exam information.

Given that referring providers are the most common source of information about imaging exams, the radiology community should reach out to them to help provide patient education, the authors said.

"These results show that what we as radiologists think patients value is not necessarily what they actually value," Pahade said in the announcement. "Our study found that patients value basic information related to the test more than information related to the radiation dose, so we should probably shift our focus to providing that."

Patients who were better informed had less anxiety about the exam. Pahade said radiologists need to take more ownership of the entire imaging process, including providing information prior to the test. Along with sending patients appointment reminders, Yale is sending links to pertinent information they can reference on RadiologyInfo.org, an online resource sponsored by RSNA and the American College of Radiology.

Another way radiologists are trying to improve communication with patients is by eliminating jargon and writing reports with greater clarity, which is more critical than ever now that many patients can access their radiology reports on patient portals.