Study: Patients prefer familiarity over expertise when learning results

Patients prefer to receive imaging exam results from their referring physician and not a radiologist, according to a study featured in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. The study, conducted by David M. Naeger, MD, and colleagues, looked at 617 anonymous surveys completed over a 4-week period by adult patients undergoing outpatient CT or MRI exams.

Patients were asked if they would prefer to hear about radiology results from “an expert in treatment and with whom you are familiar” or “an expert in interpreting scans with whom you are not familiar.” The former option was chosen by 82% of the patients, with 18% choosing the latter.

This preference of familiarity over expertise surprised the authors, especially considering the results of similar studies in the past.

“These findings do not support our initial hypothesis, which was that patients would prefer receiving their imaging results from imaging experts,” Naeger et al wrote. “To our knowledge, this is the only patient-preferences survey indicating a patient preference for the status quo.”

Another significant statistic that came out of the study is the apparent uncertainty about the role of radiology as a whole. When asked if they know what a radiologist is and what a radiologist does, 88% of the patients did answer in the affirmative. However, just 56% of the patients said they believe a radiologist is a medical doctor, and 32% correctly said radiologists perform biopsies and minimally invasive procedures.

Naeger and his colleagues suggest that, if radiologists can slowly play a larger role with patients and have more one-on-one communication, more patients may want to get their results from an imaging expert. The authors bring up a 2013 study by Peter D. Miller, MD, and colleagues, which found that just three or four minutes with a radiologist can greatly enhance a patient’s opinion of radiologists as a whole.

“Clearly, there is room to improve the public’s knowledge of radiologists,” Naeger et al wrote. “Improved recognition of radiologists’ roles may need to precede any substantial shift in patients' preferences to hear results from image interpreters.”

The study also found the following:

·         85% of patients receiving results in person prefer to view images from their exam

·         38% of patients receiving written results would rather get them in the mail, but 31% would prefer an online report accessible from a website and 30% want to receive them in an email.