Patients want to learn imaging results as soon as possible, from their own doctor

Patients prefer to receive imaging results as soon as possible, according to new research published in RadiologyThey also want that information to come from their physician and over the telephone, not through a patient portal. 

“Although hospitals are implementing [patient portals] at an accelerated rate, there is a lack of guidance regarding how best to release potentially sensitive information such as radiologic test results, which fosters variability in hospital policies,” wrote lead author Matthew S. Davenport, MD, of Michigan Medicine and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues. “Some centers may prioritize the ability of the physician to communicate results before a patient is able to see them whereas other centers may prioritize the ability of the patient to view the results without physician oversight.”

Davenport et al. noted that it sometimes takes physicians one or two weeks to find time to communicate results to a patient. A patient portal, meanwhile, can allow results to be shared within three days, but there may not be physician oversight. Either time frame may increase anxiety on the part of the patient.

The researchers sought to measure patient preferences regarding the method of communication and the timing of when imaging results should be communicated. A total of 418 patients completed a “discrete choice conjoint survey” following an imaging exam from December 2016 to February 2018. The survey consisted of three questions regarding patient preferences for receiving results for a potential or known cancer diagnosis.

Overall, the researchers found that 43 percent of the surveyed patients had experience with an online patient portal. Of those who had experience utilizing it, 95 percent liked like the process. About 61 percent of patients said they would use the portal in the future.

“We found that when given a series of choices in the context of a known or possible cancer diagnosis, patients preferred to receive imaging results as soon as possible, from their physician, and over the telephone,” Davenport and colleagues noted. “In the clinically relevant scenario of immediate release of results followed by short-term follow-up, an office visit at seven days will be more preferable than immediate release if immediately released results are not followed by an office visit within two days or a telephone call within six days.”

The survey also revealed that most patients did not want to receive their imaging results before their physician—rather, they wanted the results at the same time or after their physician received the results. The telephone was the overall preferred method of communication, followed by an office visit and then the patient portal. Not surprisingly, those who had prior experience with a patient portal were less likely to want to wait for their results in comparison to those who did not have previous experience with such a system.

In an accompanying editorial, author Ronald L. Arenson, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, noted that online portals please most patients as they are very timely and do not impact a physician’s time. There is one caveat, however: cancer.

To combat the anxiety around embargoed receipt of cancer imaging communication, Arenson suggested that physicians should be able to have their reports embargoed until the physician can review. Another option would be to give patients the choice between an immediate release or waiting for the physician to review.

“Our results can be used to inform local policy and indicate that the embargo period can and possibly should vary by site, depending on the availability of referring physicians and their extender staff to contact patients with results,” Davenport et al. concluded. “Future study into offering patients the ability to customize the use and length of their specific embargo period may be warranted because different patients and those in different age groups may have different wishes with regard to receipt of sensitive imaging results.”