A majority of patients used online access to view radiology reports

As web portals become a bigger part of our healthcare system, are patients taking advantage of that access? According to a recent study published in Academic Radiology, a majority of patients given access to online radiology reports did view them.

Christoph I. Lee, MD, MSHS, department of radiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Wash., and colleagues studied the actions of more than 61,000 patients. All patients were registered to the University of Washington health system in 2014 and were 18 years of age or older.

Overall, more than 51 percent of all patients with access to an online radiology report viewed it online.

“Radiologists should be aware that patients frequently read their own radiology reports when made available through patient portals,” the authors wrote.

Lee et al. noted that web portal use was “slightly higher” in this study than previous studies, and they offered two possible explanations: the provider’s use of alerts to notify patients of their online access and the diversity of the patients being examined.

“The ethnic and sociodemographic diversity of our patient sample may have also contributed to increased viewing rates seen in our study,” the authors wrote. “Prior studies evaluating web portal use have primarily looked at homogenous groups including patients with specific chronic diseases and veterans, limiting generalizability of their results.”

The numbers also showed how radiology reports compared to other types of information made available to patients online. For example, more than 59 percent of patients with an accessible lab report viewed that online, and more than 34 percent of patients with an accessible clinic note viewed that note.

In addition, Lee and colleagues found that patients who used their online access to view lab results or clinic notes were much more likely to view radiology reports. Could this be proof that, once they’ve tried it, patients like the feeling of privately accessing their own medical information?

“This finding may represent increased patient engagement and overall familiarity with online web portals,” the authors wrote. “Patient empowerment leading to increased patient activation and intention to use electronic health records may encourage greater self-management and expanded use of web portal tools.”

Looking closer at the patients’ demographic data, women were more likely to access online radiology reports than men, and young adults (ages 25 to 39) were more likely to view their radiology reports than patients 40 years and older. Lee and colleagues added that “certain ethnic/minority groups, patients with Medicaid insurance and primary non-English speakers” accessed online reports at lower rates.

“Compared to white patients in our study, African-American and Hispanic patients were both nearly half as likely to access their radiology reports,” the authors wrote. “Similar findings were seen in patients without commercial insurance, including Medicaid patients, and primary non-English speakers compared to their respective counterparts. Decreased health literacy seen commonly in these groups may limit perceived benefits of electronic health records and web portal use.”

The authors said their study did have limitations, including the fact that it was performed at a single health system instead of numerous systems throughout the U.S. In addition, radiology reports were all placed in one large category; future studies where radiology reports are separated by modality would provide additional insight into the habits of patients.