RSNA 2017: Web glossary helps patients decipher MRI reports

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 - Tessa Cook
Tessa Cook, MD, PhD

Patients have easier access to physicians’ reports than ever before, with the ubiquity of electronic medical records combined with online patient portals.

But understanding those documents is another matter altogether.

Tessa S. Cook, MD, PhD, plans to address this topic Nov. 27 at RSNA 2017 in Chicago in a talk titled, “How to Translate Radiology Reports to the Language that Patients Understand.”

These reports have traditionally been written by physicians to other physicians, Cook explained, so patients, understandably, often struggle to contextualize the language and determine what it means for their course of care.

Cook was the first to point out she doesn’t necessarily agree with the title of her presentation. True “translation” of radiology reports to patient-friendly language is years away, she said, because more nuance needs to be interpreted on a medical document than, say, converting a sentence from English to Spanish. More sophisticated machine learning is necessary for automatic translation of medical reports, Cook said.

However, Cook and two colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania attempted to at least improve patients’ deciphering of their imaging reports by creating a web-based, annotated glossary of common terms relating to knee MRIs. Upon mousing over the terms on their computers, users were presented with lay-language definitions and related illustrations.

All the definitions were below a high school reading level, Cook said. A demo version of the glossary is still available online.

“Overwhelmingly people liked the interface to be able to see the illustrations of the concepts, to get some of the definitions,” Cook said. “I think one person said, ‘It did help me understand a little bit what was going on.’”

Among 1,138 knee MRIs that were performed during a seven-month trial, 185 patients (16.3 percent) opened their report in the viewing portal. Of those, 76 percent hovered over at least one term to view its definition and 65 percent viewed an average of 27.5 definitions and spent a mean 3.5 minutes viewing the terms.

Twenty-two patients completed a survey about the annotated reports, with 77 percent agreeing the definitions were helpful and 91 percent saying the illustrations were helpful.

One criticism of the pilot study was the annotated glossary can’t replace a conversation with a physician—a point Cook echoed.

“We’re not trying to replace that conversation, but we were trying to at least provide a little more information and education as a starting point and see if this was a viable solution,” she said.