5 tips for producing patient-friendly radiology reports

Patients are now reading their own radiology reports on a regular basis. A new commentary published in Academic Radiology examined what this means for the specialty as a whole and how radiologists can work to still provide the very best patient care possible.

“This is a considerable shift that warrants thought and discussion about how best to serve our patients,” wrote authors Ana P. Lourenco, MD, and Grayson L. Baird, PhD, of the Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “It also poses a seismic shift to the radiology report, the product of our work, which was once intended solely for the referring provider.”

Lourenco and Baird detailed numerous ways radiology reports can be crafted in a way that is straightforward and easy for patients to understand. These are five suggestions from their analysis:  

1. Proofread your work

It may seem obvious that all reports should be proofread before they are completed, but Lourenco and Baird noted that some specialists may skip proofreading altogether to save time.

“The first step to adding value to our patients’ care is creating a high-quality report—the very basis of that is a report free from spelling and voice recognition errors,” they wrote. “At first thought this may seem like an easily achievable goal, but as clinical volumes continue to rise and complexity of cases increases, there is often less time for adequate proofreading.”

2. Skip the abbreviations

Lourenco and Baird explained that not using abbreviations is “an excellent way to minimize the possibility of miscommunication in your report and to improve report clarity.” Everyone does not know the same abbreviations, especially once you add patients into the equation.

3. Keep the terminology to a minimum

Any radiology report is clearly going to include a certain amount of imaging-related terminology, but Lourenco and Baird wrote radiologists can make things confusing for both referring physicians and patients when they assume everyone can understand the specialty’s usual jargon.

The authors also observed that it may be helpful if radiology reports included a summary written exclusively for patients. This would allow radiologists to still use terminology easily understood by all physicians while not worrying as much about patients getting mixed up or concerned.

4. Provide appropriate context

A lack of context sometimes make normal findings appear suspicious, something that can be avoided if radiologists just take a few extra moments here and there to make themselves clear.

“For example, if an MRI of the spine shows disc desiccation that is expected for the patient's age, stating so may dissuade the referring provider from ordering unnecessary additional imaging and may prevent the patient from worrying about this finding,” the authors wrote.

5. Avoid language that may be considered ‘hostile’

Patients may read certain words and interpret them as negative or hostile, even if that was never the intention of the radiologist writing the report. One example described by Lourenco and Baird is changing “the patient refused” to “the patient declined.”

“This is much less antagonistic to someone reading your report who has likely not had the opportunity to meet you and has only seen the line item on their healthcare bill for imaging services,” the authors wrote. “Perhaps there were very good reasons to have declined the exam—we often do not know those details and it is best to use neutral language whenever possible.”