Radiologists and patients both benefit from referral-based consultations

Consultations between patients and radiologists can be beneficial to both parties, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Roentgenology. Patients reported a better overall experience and an increased awareness of the radiologists’ role as a result of the 15-minute sessions.

Mark Mangano, MD, chief resident in radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues recognized a way to potentially educate patients, so they developed a pilot program at a primary care clinic. Over the course of three weeks, patients with certain imaging-related issues were referred to a radiologist when they came in for their regularly-scheduled appointment. The clinic’s office staff would contact the patients in advance, so they knew about the consultation ahead of time.

“Our group recognized the importance of empowering patients with knowledge about their own health as a mechanism to improve the patient experience and improve outcomes,” Mangano told via email. “We saw an opportunity as radiologists, experts and consultants in the data intense field of imaging, to leverage our expertise and empower patients with information regarding their imaging findings.”

During the consultations, radiologists would explain their role and then review the patient’s imaging results in detail. A question-and-answer session and recap concluded each session.

Mangano said radiologists who did not participate in the study have had reservations about the potential impact detailed consultations could have on a their daily workflow. Mangano acknowledged the validity of these concerns, but noted that feedback from radiologists who did participate in the study was “unanimously positive.”

“There is an impact on radiologists’ workflow, since you are removing them from the reading room to meet patients,” Mangano said. “However, the perceived losses should be weighed against the maybe less obvious, but important, benefits: improved patient experience and knowledge of a radiologist, support of referring physicians, improved job satisfaction, and possibly improved patient outcomes.”

A total of 22 patients participated in the study. Their results showed evidence of atherosclerosis, hepatic steatosis or emphysema. None of them had ever met with a radiologist to review imaging results.

The participants were surveyed before and after their consultation. Before the session, 41% of patients preferred involvement of the radiologist in communicating imaging results. After the session, that number changed to 82%. Before the session, 77% of the patients could identify a radiologist’s role when given four possible choices. After the session, that number jumped to 100%.  

The authors concluded that challenges do exist in implementing programs similar to this study on a larger scale. Past studies have shown that patients generally lack enthusiasm for consulting with radiologists, they wrote, and other studies have suggested that referring physicians can be hesitant to let radiologists share imaging results directly with patients. Still, they see these consultations as a possible innovation in patient-centered care.