Radiology reports must evolve to serve patient audience, expert asserts

Today’s savvy healthcare consumer wants to receive an easy-to-digest copy of their radiology report in a timely manner, and the burden is squarely on radiologists to figure out how to make that a reality.

Vivek Kalia, MD, a musculoskeletal imaging expert with Michigan Medicine, recently made this call to action to his peers in a new Academic Radiology editorial. He believes the specialty is entering a “new era” where readers’ duties extend well-beyond that final document detailing their findings.

Kalia urges radiologists to unite to determine whether the best solution is producing two separate reports for different audiences, or creating a dynamic new interface. The latter would preserve past scientific language, while also offering illustrations and annotations to serve a layman audience.

“The onus is on us as radiologists to organize ourselves and to decide which of the aforementioned potential strategies for the new world of patient-centric radiology reports we will employ, or whether we will do something else entirely,” Kalia wrote in the Jan. 13 guest editorial.

His call to action comes in response to another Academic Radiology commentary from two Brown University researchers, published last year. Kalia pointed to several recent analyses that further build the case for patient-friendly radiology reports. For instance, one 2018 study noted that the reading grade level of reports dropped from 14 to 2 simply by substituting “the heart size is normal” for the more commonly used “the cardiomediastinal silhouette is unremarkable.”

That same analysis also found that only about 4.2% of reports were readable at or below the reading level of the average U.S. adult. That is likely to lead to decreased patient involvement in care and poorer health outcomes. “There is ample proof that patients want such a change as well,” Kalia wrote.

There are several ways that radiologists can move beyond this “curse of knowledge,” and the author believes the end result will be added value to imaging practices and a more prominent role on the team.  

“This will allow us to be become more active—and direct—healthcare partners in the care of our patients,” he concluded.