Lay-language glossaries help patients understand radiology reports

A lay-language glossary may help patients better understand their radiology reports, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

“Despite their interest in reading their radiology reports, patients have found that the language of radiology reports is not always intelligible to them,” wrote authors Charles E. Kahn Jr., MD, MS, and Teresa Martin-Carreras, MD, with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “Radiology reports are often complex, contain highly technical vocabulary, and can be difficult for a layperson to understand. Traditionally, patients have relied on referring physicians to convey the results of their imaging studies. Resources that provide patient-oriented radiology content may help patients understand the results of their imaging procedures and preserve effective communication between health care professionals.”

The authors compared three different resources—MedlinePlus, RadLex and PORTER (Patient-Oriented Radiology Reporter)—to see how each one covered and explained the terms and concepts founds in 10,000 randomly selected radiology reports.

The average number of terms matched per radiology report was 3.8 for MedlinePlus, 40.7 for RadLex and 42 for PORTER. Both RadLex and PORTER had significantly greater coverage than MedlinePlus, but there was no significant difference between RadLex and PORTER, even though RadLex had 12 times as many concepts.

Only 8 percent of RadLex terms provided definitions and most had a readability level that was above a 12th grade reading level, while Medline Plus and PORTER had 10th and fourth grade reading levels, respectively.

The authors noted that RadLex’s definitions are better suited for healthcare professionals rather than patients and that PORTER’s glossary definitions “were readable by a lay audience.”

“The PORTER glossary covered significantly more of the vocabulary of radiology reports than MedlinePlus, a reference-standard medical glossary readily accessed by patients for definitions and medical concepts,” Kahn and Martin-Carreras wrote. “The glossary’s coverage was similar to that of RadLex, which is much larger and more technical, making it better suited for health professionals rather than patients. The results suggest that a domain-specific glossary may help explain significantly more of the content of radiology reports. Incorporating a lay-language radiology glossary, such as PORTER, into a patient-oriented health portal to annotate online radiology reports may help patients better understand the results of their imaging procedures.”