Face time proves mutually beneficial to patients, radiologists

Patients often don’t understand who a radiologist is or what they do – as Rodney Dangerfield would have said, they “don’t get no respect.” But a patient’s perceptions about the specialty as a whole can be greatly improved by a brief face-to-face meeting with a radiologist, according to findings made available by Daniel E. Marrero, MD, radiology resident at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, Mass, and colleagues at the American College of Radiology’s ACR 2015 Annual Meeting last month.

For their study, the authors surveyed patients about the role and qualifications of a radiologist. Respondents were then given a brief “education intervention,” during which they met face to face which a radiologist and were handed an informative brochure.

The patients were then asked to complete the same survey a second time, and Marrero and his colleagues compared the results. What they found was a significant improvement in the patients’ overall perception of radiologists after the intervention.

For instance, before the intervention, 64% of the respondents said they believe the physician ordering the exam is more capable of interpreting its results than a radiologist. After the intervention, that number decreased to 41%. And before the intervention, 71% of respondents said they believe radiologists go to medical school. After the intervention, that number increased to 96%. 

Marrero thinks one of the primary reasons for these misconceptions is the fact that patients rarely interact very much with their radiologist. 

“We are usually stuck in some dark corner of the hospital without much interaction with our patients,” Marrero told RadiologyBusiness.com via email. “The majority of specialties get a tremendous amount of face time with the patients, which in turn makes them quite familiar to the public. These interactions allow patients to understand the physician’s role in their care and also appreciate their extensive training and expertise.”

Marrero also notes that it can be hard for patients to tell the difference between a technologist and a radiologist, adding further confusion.

“I remember speaking with a patient about the patient’s family and she told me she had a cousin that was in radiology,” Marrero said. “She stated that her cousin was studying to be a radiologist and she would be completing her associates in a few months, after which she would be getting a job. The patient clearly confused being a radiology technologist with being a radiologist, which is not uncommon.”

Marrero said it is especially important that patients understand the role of radiologists.

“Radiologists are in a unique position to provide very specialized imaging in order to asses important medical problems,” Marrero said. “A better understanding of the role of radiologist would insure that our medical system continues to have cutting edge technology and with well-trained radiologists to provide the best care in the world.”

Having this improved understanding can also help patients feel more comfortable about various imaging exams.

“Many times, patients have questions about a certain exam or the exams they are about to undergo and want to know the radiation risks, alternatives, or possible complications,” Marrero said. “If patients understood who the radiologist was, they would feel free to ask more questions and speak more frequently with them. Patients could have the risks of radiation clearly explained and put in perspective.”